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Lessons from a first season raft guide

iboutdoor looks back on a season of pushing rubber…

So you’ve graduated from guide school and somebody has seen fit to let you loose on the punters. Here’s a few tips to help you through your first season…


It’s all in the brief

99% of problems can be avoided with a good brief. Ideally, you should cover all of the safety information that your group needs, without boring them to death. Make it your own and get them laughing – your clients are there for a good time after all. And if there’s two things you want to drill in to them the most, it’s to keep their T Grips to themselves and to remember the ol’ white water swimming position. 



Positions, people!

Often your clients will spend a great deal of time debating where they’re going to sit, bless ’em. Chances are you’ll want to move them when you’re on the water anyway. Think about how the raft is weighted and you definitely don’t want all of the strongest paddlers on the same side.

The front two positions are best suited to the most gung-ho in the group, because let’s face it – they’re going to get soaked. On the other hand, anyone that’s nervous may be best placed at the back close to you, where you can keep up your smooth talking guide-patter to put them at ease.

Found yourself with a raft full of foreigners? Save yourself a lot of hassle, by putting the two with the best English right at the front. Even if nobody else understands, they can at least copy the person in front of them.

rafting positions


Read your group

No two trips are the same and it’s the group that makes the difference. If you’ve got a rowdy stag-party, then by all means, give them hell – safe hell that is. But not everybody wants carnage and some groups will appreciate you taking the drier, more sedate lines where possible. Also, try to think about how they’re feeling. If you’re “a bit chilly” in your drysuit and fleece under-layers, they’re probably freezing their backsides off in their wetsuits. Time to get moving.


Watch out for those T Grips

T grips give you “Summer Teeth”. Some-are over here and some-are over there… ahhh the old ones are the best.

You’ll soon find out that the most dangerous thing on the river is a client with a paddle. Save your good looks by drilling it in to them during the brief that they must cover their T grips and jump on any offenders at the start of the trip. 

t grip


Get ’em down

Punters were brought up watching carnage videos, with rafts flipping and people swimming left, right and centre. In the real world, with shallow, rocky rapids you may decide that actually, you’d quite like them to stay in the raft if possible. The “Get Down” call is your seatbelt. Once your clients are crouched on the bottom of the raft, it’s pretty unlikely that they can fall in the drink. This position also protects them, if it’s likely that you’re going to hit something. Blown your line and heading towards a boulder? Call the “Get Down”. 

get down


Easy on the “Hard Forwards”

Want to destroy your crew and make sure they have a rubbish time? Then kill them by overusing the “Hard Forwards” call. Otherwise, take it steady. The “Hard Forwards” is there for a reason – to give you an extra burst of speed, when you need it to make a line. It shouldn’t be your only speed. You’ll soon find that many of your clients aren’t exactly finely tuned athletes and could use the time to recover between rapids. Use the flow to move your boat where possible and let your team rest up whenever you get the chance.


Train for the flip

Often, rookie guides will get all the “float trips” or be based on an easy river for their first season. You can choose to either stop learning and get bored, or to use this as an opportunity to train in an easier environment, before stepping it up a notch. Try catching all of the eddies, making the moves backwards or guiding the rapids without the help of your team. If there are long flat sections of water and you have a keen group, why not practise your flip drill? You don’t want to be the one that can’t get back on top of their raft when it happens for real. 


raft flip


Learn from your mistakes…

I’ve made my fair share, that’s for sure.  Making a mistake on the river may cost you beers to the other guides, but the important thing is being able to learn from them. The old adage – “You can make an easy river harder, but it’s tough to make a hard river easier” still rings true. Train hard on the lower grades to prepare for harder rivers.

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