Guide School Handbook

This manual is not intended to be comprehensive about swift water rescue, water politics, or whitewater rafting skills. More information may be obtained from books on the reading list, by attending additional classes, conservation meetings, and most importantly by experience on the river.


Whitewater rafting is best learned on the river. The purpose of this section is to first introduce the learning progression of guide skills and second to discuss river features as they relate to guiding, swimming, and safety on the river.

Maytag Rapid - North Fork Yuba

The learning progression outlines a set of skills that generally build on one another. Work to accomplish each step. If you are having difficulty work with an instructor or try going back to a step that you have mastered and go slowly. You may not master all the skills involved in being a competent river guide in training. Keep practicing!

There are many different learning styles. Be aware of the way you best comprehend concepts and incorporate skills. Does something make more sense when seen, heard, or when you do it? Let your trainers know what works best for you. If a particular skill presents a problem try a different way of learning. Ask your trainers for suggestions. Don’t be shy! You are here to learn and we are here to provide the best possible instruction.


The International Grading Scale for Whitewater Rafting 

Class I (one) - EasyFast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.

Class II (two) - Novice straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.

Class III (three) - Intermediate rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.

Class IV (four) - Advanced Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. For kayakers, a strong roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively.

Class V (five) - Expert, extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.

Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class V is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc. Each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. That is, going from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Class VI (six) - Extreme and Exploratory Rapids. Runs of this classification are rarely attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapid has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.


Guiding is more than river running. Commercial guests and friends depend on your attention to detail. Head guides are responsible for all logistics and necessary safety resources and equipment. All guides should be aware of all details and equipment locations.

Trip logistics

  • Put in and take out sites (specifically what take out looks like, so you don’t go past it)
  • Anticipated river flows, gradient and class of river section
  • weather forecast and potential water level impact
  • Major rapids including their obstacles, safety problems and approximate location on the run

Safety information

  • Emergency routes and evacuation options
  • Emergency phone numbers and protocol
  • Safety equipment necessary for trip is loaded
  • Guides are fully qualified for the class of river
  • Guests have adequate training and experience for the river

During guide school trainers will assist in overseeing safety equipment, put in and take out shuttles, emergency number and evacuation routs and methods. 



As a Guideline maintain spacing of at least 30 seconds between your group and the groups ahead or behind you. At the top of a rapid where the water is speeding up this is about 30-40 meters. Keep rafts within your group no further than 25 meters and in rapids no closer than 10 meters.

Allow a faster craft or group of crafts to pass. On crowded day keep up the pace and stay in the current. Don’t make groups pass unless eddied out completely. If so eddy out as a group.

If you want to pass a slow group have you lead boat ask their sweep boat. Wait for permission. Being pushy and passing in or near rapids is a recipe for disaster.

Don’t pass a continuous line of rafts ahead. It won’t save time and it will increase congestion.

Don’t pass in rapids unless unavoidable.

If a group that has eddied out wants in, let them in.

Give an extra amount of space to an oar-powered raft in front of you. It moves slower than a paddle raft or kayak. If you are in an oar raft pay attention to who is coming up behind you and keep up your speed.

The downstream raft generally has the right of way, unless they are intentionally playing or surfing, in which case they should yield to the craft that is running through.

Because they are generally more maneuverable rafts have the right of way over kayaks and larger rafts over smaller ones.


Communicate directly, pleasantly and positively. Unless in a rescue situation get close enough to communicate with out yelling.

Remember in all interactions everyone is on the river to have fun. Patience and a smile will remove the edge from almost any situation without having to change the content of the conversation.


When pulling into crowded eddies avoid bumping other rafts.

Take up a minimum amount of space when tying off.

Communicate planes to group without yelling. Each guide knows procedure and communicates it to their guests.

Leave lunch site cleaner than you found it. Pick up dropped food and make sure guests do the same.

Tell customers about composting toilets. Don’t use public garbage cans. If we pack it in, we pack it out.

Respect for the river front residents in imperative to keep good relations.


Always be prepared to pick up swimmers in an emergency; do not assume that other rafts have them covered unless specifically advised.

Keep voluntary swimmers within your group, not out in front or behind.

If you come across an emergencies do not pass. Ask if they want help and don’t help unless specifically asked to.


Be cordial, patient and attentive to guests. Explain put in and take out procedures to guests and give directions.

Stop and register as required.

Drive slowly and park where requested. Keep loading areas clear.

Avoid disturbing non-river people at multi-use areas.

Stack paddles and rafts so as to not take up to much space until loaded.

Keep your gear confined to a small, defined area and post someone to keep an eye on it.

Stay out of main access lanes.

Stay away from other people’s gear.

Bring only the gear vehicle to the immediate loading area. Have passengers walk to our vehicle.


Always arrange car shuttles away from public roads.

Drive slowly and safely.

Wear seat belts and ask guests to wear theirs.

Don’t blow the river industries reputation with bad driving.

The law requires a major space between every five vehicles so that emergency vehicles can pass. Groups of four are even better with several hundred yards between groupings.


Think about the consequences of what you are doing. Will it screw someone or something up?

Would you like to have it done to you? A few seconds of considered thought is helpful before reacting to emergencies or other situations.

Remember the three C’s: communication, consideration and care.


1. Sitting in the boat

To be an effective guide, you need first to sit securely in the raft. Guides sit on either the right or the left side of the back of the boat, be sure to be consistent and guide on one side or the other.

Do not guide sitting in the center of the stern. You will sit too high above the water to get enough leverage for effective strokes.

Develop a foot placement that keeps you securely braced in the raft. You’ll need to use your whole body to paddle effectively. Developing a secure bracing and sitting position is essential to good guide skills.

2. Guide strokes

Guide strokes are what a guide uses to change and hold the angle of a raft in the current. We will practice guide strokes first on flat water, then in slowly moving current and then in faster water. There are five basic guide strokes:

 Good foot and body positioning are essential for strong paddle strokes, especially the draw stroke. 

Good foot and body positioning are essential for strong paddle strokes, especially the draw stroke. 

Sweep Strokes – turn the raft and add momentum

Forward sweep strokes - Put the paddle in the water in front of you and pull the paddle back in a wide arc. This turns the raft to the left or right depending upon which side of the raft you are on. If you’re sitting on the right rear of the raft and do a forward sweep, the front of the raft will turn left. The forward sweep stroke also pushes the raft forward and usually increases the speed.

Reverse sweep stroke – put the paddle in the water behind you. Using your hip as a fulcrum, pull the paddle back through the water in an arc. This turns the raft to the left or right depending on what side you are sitting on. If you are sitting on the rear right and you do a sweep stroke the raft will turn right. The reverse sweep also pulls the raft backward and slows it down.

Draw and pry strokes – turn the raft without changing momentum

Draw strokes – Reach out to your side, put the paddle in the water, and pull the paddle through the water toward the raft. This turns the raft without adding any momentum. If you’re sitting on the right rear of the raft and do a draw, the boat turns to the left.

Pry strokes – put the paddle shaft against your hip with the blade in the water behind you. Using your hip as a fulcrum, pull the paddle handle and the blade will push water away from the raft. This also turns the raft without adding momentum. If you were sitting on the right rear of the raft and did a pry, the raft would turn right.

Modified rudder or modified J stroke – This stoke is a combination of a forward sweep and a pry stroke. Once you have mastered this stroke you will be able to propel the raft forward without the aid of your paddlers. First start with a forward sweep to give you forward momentum, then use a fast strong pry stoke to counteract the spin that the forward sweep puts on the raft. The raft will shimmy side to side a little but will move forward.

These strokes might seem hard at first. As you practice your muscles will get stronger and the strokes become easier. Guides should keep their paddles in the water 99.9 percent of the time. Current changes, appropriate adjustments, and timely maneuvers require instant paddle power. Ultimately, a combination of strokes, crew commands, and reading river currents turns into a full fun river run.

3. Controlling Momentum – Stopping and changing directions

In flat water a raft requires a stroke or more from the crew or the guide before it will begin to move. Conversely it takes time before a raft will stop. Therefore, anticipation of a needed move is essential, this becomes more important the faster the currant gets.

Practice stopping the boat and changing directions as often as you can. Controlling momentum is a skill, which develops with practice. Practice precision maneuvering around rocks or other harmless river features when you are in flat or slow moving water.

4. Ferry Angles – Setting angles, holding angles, cross-river ferries

A fundamental rafting principle is that of ferry angles. A raft must have an angle to the current in order to move across the river. Rafts need to be able to move across currents because river flow is often directing boats towards hazards and away from clear paths through rapids.

To illustrate, if a raft is heading straight downstream in a current, forward paddling, will increase the boat’s speed. Back paddling will decrease the boat’s speed. Neither back paddling or forward paddling will alter the direction in which the current is directing the raft. The current will still carry the boat where it’s going. If, however, the raft is at an angle to the current such as a 90-degree angle, then the boat can be moved; river right or river left and alter its course away from the direction of the current.

A more typical angle for a raft is 45 degrees to the current. A guide continually adjusts the angle of the raft to the current.

Practice crossing the river staying in one place relative to the shore using a ferry angle. Try using a first forward paddle and then back paddle momentum from your crew.

You will use angles to move sideways across the current. Be aware that your angle is only relative to the current or the flow of the water directly underneath your boat, not to the shoreline. The currents underneath you will always be changing. Therefore you will always need to be adjusting your angle to the current. Keeping your paddle in the water helps you to quickly identify changes in the current.

5. Using your crew – Proper calls, voice control

The crew must feel that you are in charge. Paddle commands must be given with a sense of confidence. Commands need to be loud and clear to be heard above the sound of the river. Project your voice towards the crew, not over your shoulder towards the river behind you. Never verbally indicate that you don’t know what’s going on. Keep in mind the energy your crew is expending. Try not to wear them out unnecessarily. Ask your crew for feedback regarding their ability to hear your calls and their stamina.

 Paddling commands (demonstrate each one briefly on-shore)

  • Stop – paddle out of water as soon as command called
  • Forward paddle
  • Back paddle
  • Turns – right and left (some prefer back on the right, forwards on the left style vs. right turn) o High-side – Explain why its used, demonstrating with body.
  • Common sense commands – hold on, get down and kids in the boat

6.  Eddies – spotting eddies, eddy fences, catching them, holding them, and exiting them

Eddies form on the downstream side of rocks or on the inside of a bend of the river. ? In an eddy the river does not flow downstream and may actually flow upstream. Eddies are your friends. You can use them to stop, maneuver or scout midstream. To enter eddies establish a ferry angle and then paddle forward or backward into them.

The flow in an eddy may be very different from that of the river. When you are on the river try reaching out with your paddle into an eddy. Feel what currents are like within the eddy relative to the main current. You can use eddy currents to alter the momentum of your boat.

Use your paddle to identify eddy fences. Eddy fences are the line between the river flow and an eddy.

Always exit an eddy with speed at the upstream end of the eddy preferable with an upstream angle like the one you would use for cross-stream ferries. As you exit the eddy, the river will turn your boat down stream.

Eddy catching is a valuable tool. Practice catching eddies and exiting them until these skills are solid.

7. Avoiding obstacles – Precision maneuvering around rocks or other obstacles in different types of current, use of the downstream ferry angle approach.

A ferry angle approach uses and holds an angle to the current with the bow of the raft pointing

toward or away from major obstacles and hazards. The crew either forward paddles or back paddles as the raft continues to move downstream. The ferry angle and either forward paddling or back paddling to keep the raft from hitting obstacles.

Using the back paddle will tend to slow you down and give you more time to study the rapid. This also makes moving down the river much slower because you are working against the current and losing downstream momentum.

The forward paddle technique is considered the more aggressive of the two and requires a greater degree of skill. It is advantageous to keep your downstream momentum to avoid flipping in big waves and holes. Also, it is more fun to go faster. Keep in mind that as you forward paddle past obstacles you will need a high degree of ability to judge momentum and river position in relation to obstacles. You are also exposing the long side of the raft to hazards, increasing the likelihood of flipping or wrapping.

Regardless of whether a back paddle or forward paddle technique is used, a boat must have a ferry angle to the current in order to maneuver.

8. Reading currents – Scouting, upstream and downstream V’s, tongues, holes, channels, standing wavers, obstacles, spotting waves versus rocks

To avoid obstacles you first must be able to identify them. Some obstacles are obvious; rocks may be denoted by upstream V’s or, in flat water, by a slight surface disturbance. It is important to be aware of obstacles that may not be obvious, but which can be anticipated. Ask your trainer for info about known obstacles on each river. Studying a mile-by-mile guide is helpful (see suggested reading list for references). However, to avoid most obstacles you will need to read the water, look for patterns, and learn to identify them.

  • Downstream V’s (or tongues)

Smooth water that is shaped like a V elongated downstream through a channel, between obstacles, or in the center of a flow indicates a route of choice.

Large tongues may have standing waves, or haystacks at the base of the V. These types of waves are best paddled through with some downstream momentum. If you are swimming, breathe in the troughs and hold your breath at the wave tops. The floatation of the vest will not carry you over the crest of large waves. It is difficult to swim in large waves. Keep your feet downstream and get an angle to the current to move across the flow and avoid obstacles. If you have the opportunity to swim in big waves, take your paddle, and try to use it to maneuver across the flow.

  • Holes

A hole is a place where the river flow is pouring over a rock or an underwater ledge. In a hole, part or all of the river flow recalculates. In a partially recalculating hole, the water flows over the obstruction and then the flow divides. Part of the flow goes upstream again in a reversal pattern. Part of the flow travels over the rock, down to the bottom of the hole, and continues downstream. In a completely recalculating hole, the downstream flow from the holes’ bottom may be minimal. This type of hole is often called a stopper, or a keeper. It may stop a raft or recalculate a swimmer.

Avoid holes initially when learning to guide. If you must go through a hole do not enter it gingerly. Meet force with force. Power into a hole with your raft straight, do not enter a hole sideways or you are likely to flip.

As a swimmer in a hole you have several options. You can swim sideways across the hole and reach out into passing flow. You can relax and hope you will be washed out. Or you can dive for the bottom and hope to reach the downstream flow component. Holes that are keepers are to be respected, as they are difficult to escape if you are swimming. A throw bag can be used effectively to assist a swimmer from a hole.

  • Upstream Vs

A whitewater V with its base upstream generally denotes a rock or hazard in the water. The rock may cause a rooster tail or water splash on its upstream face making the rock itself invisible, a rock that is just a couple inches under water will generally create a small “horizon line in the water with white water behind it. Be on the lookout for upward spays of water and small horizon lines as these are generally hazards.

Study rocks and how they appear in the river, with practice you will be able to differentiate between rocks of different depths. Avoid hitting rocks or obstacles they can damage the raft, stop you, alter your course and cause injury to you passengers and you. If you are unsure weather or not a river pattern in indicating a rock avoid the area in question.

As a swimmer use a ferry angle by swimming upstream at a 45-degree angle to the current and maneuver away from obstacles. You can use your feet to kick off rocks and view upcoming obstacles from the tops of waves.

  • Scouting

Generally you should scout any time you are unsure of what lies downstream. A large horizon

line in the river past, which you cannot see, may spell difficulty. When you are scouting study the river and all the hazards and obstacles in the rapid as well as the route you plan on taking.

As you walk back upstream look back frequently to carefully identify shore or river landmarks so that you are able to identify your route when you are going downstream.

Anytime you scout, wear a PFD and take a THROW BAG!!!!

Strainer on South Fork Feather - Little Grass Valley

  • Strainers, Sives and Snags

Any branches or tree that are in the river are called strainers as they let the water through, but

not much else. As a swimmer avoid strainers at all costs. If unavoidable, swim aggressively downstream and climb over the strainer. Do not get swept under a strainer as it may hold you under or catch your PFD. whitewater guides should always give strainers a wide birth if possible.

A sieve, similar to a strainer, is generally created by boulder piles in the river and can be deep in the water or on the surface. Sieves can be difficult to identify but you should be aware of boulder piles that do not have water pillowing up in front of them.

A Snag is any branch either sticking out of the water or hanging down from the banks.

9. MANEUVERING – planning, setting up, executing and plan B

Once you have mastered other skills you can begin to put it all together. Study a rapid, determine how you want to travel through it. Plan to use eddies to slow down and back paddle techniques to avoid obstacles. Then execute your plan. A simple rapid can be made difficult and vice versa if you misjudge your momentum or spin on a rock then it is time for plan B. don’t hesitate, remember what your options are and where you want to go then promptly call a decisive command.


This section is not designed to teach you everything about safety. It is strongly recommended that guides take a swift water rescue course. Other guides rely on your skills for help. Courses are offered

by Rescue 3 and River Skill Center, contact numbers provided in school. Before you guide a trip both first aid and CPR certifications are needed. Current proof of certification is required for all guides. No exceptions.


Swift Water Training on Truckee River

Self-rescue is the name of the game when it comes to personal misfortunes on the river. This is not to say that others will not be able to help you, but often swimmers can get themselves out of a sticky situation before others are even aware that they need help. Everyone is at one time or another going to go for a swim, either by accident or intentionally, therefore it is important to know how to swim in the river. When you fall in the river remember to not panic, and hold onto your paddle.

Keep your feet up to avoid foot entrapment and do not stand up in the river unless it is only shin deep.

Look where you are going.

Keep your ass up to avoid rocks.

Use hands and feet to swim and maneuver around obstacles.

Use ferry angles to help you move side to side.

Use you feet to kick of rocks.

Breathe in when you are in the troughs and look around at the peaks.

If you get stuck in a hole keep your wits about you. Feel with the paddle and hands to try and “grab” downstream currents at either the sides or the bottom of the hole to help pull you out. The bottom of the hole is the great unknown and can be unsafe, however if all else fails balling up and letting the current flush you out in the downstream current at the bottom of the hole will generally always free you.

Avoid strainers, sieves, snags, undercut rocks, pot holes, low head dams and man made debris.

If you cannot avoid a strainer turn and swim aggressively downstream at the strainer then climb up and over branches and debris. Do not go under, as you will certainty have to deal with the unknown hazard below the water. During spring high water strainers are more common.

As soon as you are clear of hazards and can get to a boat, the bank or a rock in the river swim hard on your stomach using ferry angles to move across the current. Remember if you swim to a rock in the river you still have to get off it, but this is some times better than swimming the rapids below.

Never discourage anyone from portaging a rapid and support others in their decision. Asses the risks yourself and stand by your choice, mentally it is often harder to walk around a rapid than to run it.

It is wonderful to swim in the river and feel the currents that you normally float over. Take opportunities to practice swimming in the river, catching eddies and maneuvering with and without your paddle. Ask your trainer for appropriate swimming rapids.


In any situation where rescue is necessary the first action of the group should be to designate a leader. The rescue leader should be the most experienced and knowledgeable in the group. Reaction time is critical; there is no time for arguments or democratic discussions. All person involved in the rescue follow the leaders instructions, in this way the rescue stays organized. The mnemonic for rescue is reach, row, throw, go, helo. Reach first then try to paddle out, ropes in the river can be dangerous so throw bag comes after row, last you try to swim out either attached to a rope by a swimming harness or free but this exposes you to more danger. Last is helo for helicopter or any advanced rescue i.e. calling fire departments or forest service for specialized equipment and personnel, when a rescue gets to this phase it is often a body recovery. No rescue that could endanger rescuers should be attempted.


Any emergency demands reliable communication. Swift water rescue depends on hand signals and whistle blasts to communicate over the noise of the river. Hand signal obviously require visual contact, while whistle signals may be used to augment hand signals or alone when visual contact cannot be made. Arial flares and radios are additional options.


One hand extended above head: Distress or need assistance

Two hands forming an “O” or one hand on head: I’m okay, you okay

Two hands above head then point left or right: Move raft or swim in that direction

Circle finger above head then point right or left: Eddy out that side of river

Forearms crossed in front of body: Need first aid kit

There are countless hand signals that have been made up over the years by raft guides. for a good general list check out "the Guides Guide Augmented" by William McGinnis, but remember hand signals can change from river to river and company to company so it is important to go over them as a group before rafting with new people. 


One blast: Stop/ attention

Two blasts: Upstream

Three blasts: Downstream

Three blasts repeated: Emergency

There are more whistle blast combinations that are used in some rescue systems but you will not come across them typically as a raft guide. It is always important to double check with your group to make sure every one is on the same page if using more than the four mentioned above.

Bad day at Jaws Rapid - Truckee River



These river features can be no problem at some flows and stop or flip a raft at others. If your raft gets stuck in a hole move to the downstream tube to keep the raft from flipping, this is called high-sideing. Be aware that the raft may spin in the hole and the high side will change. To escape the hole reach for the downstream current with your paddle, stronger holes may require a throw bag from shore. Attach the throw bag to the D ring or tie a knot so that rescuers on shore may pull out the boat. If a flip occurs try to hang on to the boat, it will often flush out with less weight in it. Once out of the hole count your passengers if anyone is still in the hole throw bags can be used to rescue them.


After a flip, immediately account for all of your passengers and organize rescue as necessary. Every situation will be a little different however in general the guide should always go for the raft and climb on. Once on top you can use it as a rescue platform or paddle to the shore or a calm spot. To rite the upside down raft connect a flip line or loop the bow line through a side D ring on one side of the boat and stand on the opposite tube while pulling the line to flip it over.


When a raft in current broadsides an obstacle a wrap is likely to occur. If an obstacle is unavoidable try to hit it with the bow or the stern of the boat and spin off of it. Obviously hitting an obstacle is not desired, wrapping the boat however can be more dangerous and damaging to the boat. If the boat does hit sideways the upstream tube will begin to get sucked under the water by the current until it is flat on the front surface of the rock to prevent this you must high side (move to the tube closest to the rock). Try to stay onto of the boat or climb on the rock if the boat does wrap and immediately account for all your passengers, if someone is trapped under the raft cut the floor and get them out immediately. Once your passengers are safe you can start to get the raft off. Usually the raft is being held against the rock or obstacle by the rigidity of the thwarts holding the bottom tube down and or the river current pushing on both sides of the raft as it goes around the obstacle. To alter these forces you can try pulling or prying with your paddle if that doesn’t work try partially deflating a thwart (close the valves after deflating so water doesn’t get inside, it is very hard to get out). By deflating the thwart the lower tube can rise on that side and make the forces acting on the front and back of the raft unequal, attaching a line to that part of the tube that wants to rise up and pulling from the opposite side can increase this imbalance. If the current is pushing harder on one side than the other the raft theoretically will unwrap. If all else fails rescue lines and mechanical advantage systems called a Z-rig will be necessary to un-wrap it. To attach a rope system to a raft correctly run a sturdy rope through as many D rings as you can on the side you will be pulling, carabineer your shore line to the middle of each segment between the rings to create a self equalizing anchor and distribute the forces equally between the rings. Always be aware of tensioned lines as they may break. There are many ways to unwrap a boat; this is a brief outline of methods that are often successful. There is no substitute for experience.


Undercut rocks occur when water flows under or through openings in rocks forming a strainer. Normally, as water flows into a rock a pillow of water (a billowing of up-flowing water) form in front of the rocks. Where water does not form a pillow expect an undercut, others may not be obvious and can be under water and waterfalls as well (2nd stair at staircase rapid on the North Fork American). Obviously these places are very dangerous for rafts and swimmers. Known undercuts may present problems only as certain flows. Be safety conscious, there may be no safe rescue for swimmers caught in undercuts, consider portaging rapids where undercuts are known to exist.


Potholes occur where rock is “scooped” out or depressed and there may even be flow out the bottom of the hole. Potholes are difficult to identify, a boil line downstream may be the only indication of there presence. It is important to know the location of known potholes and respect them as you would an undercut.


Foot entrapment can occur any time someone try’s to stand up in swift current. An entrapment occurs when someone gets their foot pinned against the river bottom features, and then is pushed downstream by the current. Foot entrapment is one of the most dangerous hazard river runners face. It is absolutely imperative to keep your feet up while swimming in the river. Rescue can be very hard and take more time than is available, training for these situations is key for any rescue to go smooth.


Some of the most hazardous river obstacles are man made. Bridge abutments, hydroelectric diversions and dams may pose hidden dangers similar to pothole or as simple as protruding metal rebar. Avoid hazards that are man made. Low head dams typically stretch all the way across the river and the water flows over them in a uniform pattern creating a “perfect” hole with a complete and strong reversal at their base. This type of reversal is difficult/impossible to escape and should generally be portaged.


Hypothermia is a common and potentially dangerous health condition frequently encountered on the river. The problem is more common in spring but cam occur in summer from cold water or sudden storms. Early intervention is the best treatment, as guides it is important to be constantly aware of paddlers’ conditions and able to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. According to the American heart Association hypothermia is defined as a core temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. (Normal body temperature is 98.6) hypothermia causes a slowing of the basic metabolic rate in the body (i.e. the ability of the body to create energy to sustain life). Moderate to severe hypothermia can result in death.

BE PREPARED – On cold day or when incoming weather is predicted pack wetsuits and paddling jackets for guests. We provide these free because our guests’ comfort and safety is key. Make sure guests are dressed appropriately for the conditions and have warm dry clothes packed in the appropriate take out vehicle for après rafting. Be on the look out for early signs and treat immediately, better safe than frozen.

Practicing a Hypothermia Wrap

MILD HYPOTHERMIA – We have all experienced mild hypothermia diagnosing and treating mild hypothermia requires a certain level of common sense. The first sign is goose bumps then shivering; the longer someone is exposed to the cold the harder it is to warn them up. At home it can be as easy as putting on more clothes or drinking something warm, on the river even warming up when you just started shivering can be difficult because you can’t get dry. On the river be on the lookout for these symptoms and do not let paddlers stay cold once they are shivering. The health of the participants is of primary importance. As a guide your health is also important because you can’t help them if you are frozen so you need to be prepared. Mild hypothermia is a prelude to moderate and severe hypothermia.

MODERATE HYPOTHERMIA – As the core temperature continues to drop shivering will worsen until it stops (a much worse sign). Speech, motor functions and thought patterns begin to get sluggish and a person may become irrational. This person needs immediate attention and is in serious trouble in the river environment. Such people need to be handled gently, insulate them from the cold, get their clothes changed and prevent any further loss of heat. Warm them slowly using a warm tent or room or you own body heat do not rub their skin or handle them roughly. Do not give them hot liquids until they have recovered past the shivering point and are clearly alert again. Warming a moderate hypothermia patient too quickly can cause significant metabolic problems that you must avoid.

SEVERE HYPOTHERMIA – When someone begins to loose consciousness they are severely hypothermic. People who have been exposed to the cold and become unconscious have been resuscitated with encouraging results, if you have a patient with a near drowning event or prolonged hypothermia episode, remember you ABC’s (airway breathing and circulation). If there is no pulse or respirations start CPR. A person may have an increase in heart function as their core body temperature increases. In addition to monitoring ABC’s you need to treat these patients very gently as you would treat a mildly hypothermic patient.

CONCLUSION – Prevent it!! Don’t skip meals or put them off in cold weather. Plan ahead and bring snacks such as gorp, fruits, and cookies. Children, lightweight, and elderly participants are more susceptible to the cold and could become hypothermic after a short swim. After any prolonged swim or rescue scene assess for hypothermia, assume that they will be hypothermic to some degree and be prepared to handle the situation on every trip. Hypothermia will be covered more in depth in first aid training.



  • Boats appropriate for the river, flow and number of guests
  •  Paddles for group, spares, youth if needed
  • Helmets for everyone
  • Wetsuits and paddling jackets (when requested or if weather warrants)
  • Lunch (when required)
  • Purchase and pack food in cooler with ICE
  •  Prepare and pack dry box
  • Utensils plates cups
  • Cutting board
  • Garbage bags/ Ziplock bags/ sponge/ dishtowel
  • Bowels for prep/ serving
  • Water jugs
  • Tables
  • Water bottles for each boat
  • First aid kit – inventory items
  • Rope kit –rope anchors hardware o Throw bags –properly rigged
  • Repair kit – inventory items
  • Duct tape
  • Day tripper (when needed)
  • Take out beverages
  • Top off pump
  • Small first aid kit


  • One-day list plus....
  • Frames (oar boats)
  • Oars, oar locks and spares
  • Tables
  • Stove/blaster w/ propane & repair
  • Commissary box
  • Dry good box
  • Food coolers
  • Drinks
  • Johnny partner- complete
  • Dish system
  • Hand Washing
  • Tarps
  • Personal dry bags
  • Fire pan
  • Charcoal
  • Five gallon buckets
  • Water Jugs and Filter
  • Camp chairs


Cadillac Dessert: The American west and its Disappearing Water
By Marc Reisner. Published 1986 by Viking Penguin
Policy issues book, Reisner has recently co-authored “over tapped oasis” which deals more specifically with water law and water marketing proposals for California.

The American River, North, Middle and South Forks
By Mandell, Stephanie, et all. Published 1989 by the wilderness conservancy.
Contains information about the canyons, including geology, river details, hiking information and natural/human history

California Whitewater: A Guide to the Rivers
By Jim Cassady and Fryar Calhoun. Published 1990 by North Fork Press.
Cover virtually every rafting run in California, with detailed logistical information on 47 different rivers.

River Rescue
By Less Bechdel and Slim Ray. Published 1985 by Appellation Mountain Club Books. A comprehensive river rescue text.

Whitewater Rescue Manual: New Techniques for Canoeists, Kayakers and Rafters By Charles Walbridge and Wayne A Sundmacher