RAFTING (White Water Rafting)
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Rafting or white water rafting is a challenging recreational activity using an inflatable raft to navigate a river or other bodies of water. This is usually done on white water or different degrees of rough water, in order to thrill and excite the raft passengers. The development of this activity as a leisure sport has become popular since the mid-1970s.
White Water Rafting
The modern raft is an inflatable boat, consisting of very durable, multi-layered rubberized or vinyl fabrics with several independent air chambers. The length varies between 3.5 m (11 ft) and 6 m (20 ft), the width between 1.8 m (6 ft) and 2.5 m (8 ft). The exception to this size rule is usually the packraft, which is designed as a portable single-person raft and may be as small as 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) long and weigh as little as 4 pounds (1.8 kg).
Rafts come in a few different forms. In Europe, the most common is the symmetrical raft steered with a paddle at the stern. Other types are the asymmetrical, rudder-controlled raft and the symmetrical raft with central helm (oars). Rafts are usually propelled with ordinary paddles and typically hold 4 to 12 persons. In Russia, rafts are often hand made and are often a catamaran style with two inflatable tubes attached to a frame. Pairs of paddlers navigate on these rafts. Catamaran style rafts have become popular in the western United States as well, but are typically rowed instead of paddled.
Classes of White Water
International Scale of River Difficulty
- Grade 1: Very small rough areas, might require slight maneuvering. (Skill Level: Very Basic)
- Grade 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, might require some maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
- Grade 3: Whitewater, small waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering.(Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)
- Grade 4: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)
- Grade 5: Whitewater, large waves, possibility of large rocks and hazards, possibility of a large drop, requires precise maneuvering (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)
- Grade 6: Class 6 rapids are considered to be so dangerous as to be effectively unnavigable on a reliably safe basis. Rafters can expect to encounter substantial whitewater, huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, and/or substantial drops that will impart severe impacts beyond the structural capacities and impact ratings of almost all rafting equipment. Traversing a Class 6 rapid has a dramatically increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or death compared to lesser classes. (Skill Level: Successful completion of a Class 6 rapid without serious injury or death is widely considered to be a matter of great luck or extreme skill)
Rafts in white water are very different vehicles than canoes or kayaks and have their own specific techniques to maneuver through whitewater obstacles.
- Punching – Rafts carry great momentum, and on rivers hydraulics that are dodged by canoes and kayaks are often punched by rafts. This involves the rafting crew paddling the raft to give it enough speed to push through the hydraulic without getting stopped.
- High Siding – If a raft is caught in a hydraulic it will often quickly go sideways. In order to stop the raft flipping on its inside edge, the rafters can climb to the side of the raft furthest downstream, which will also be the side of the raft highest in the air leading to its name. In this position the rafters may be able to use the draw stroke to pull the raft out of the hydraulic.
- Dump Truck – Rafts are inherently stable crafts because of their size and often they will shed gear and passengers before they actually capsize. In the industry if a raft dumps some or all of its passengers but remains upright, it is said to have dump trucked.
- Left Over Right or Right over Left – Rafts almost always flip side over side. If the left tube rises over the right tube, the raft is said to have flipped left over right and vice versa.
- Taco – If a raft is soft, or under inflated, it may taco, or reverse taco. Rafts are said to have tacoed if the middle of the raft buckles and the front of the raft touches or nearly touches the back of the raft. This often is a result of surfing in a hydraulic. A reverse taco is when the nose, or stern of the raft is pulled down under water and buckles to touch the middle or back, or nose of the raft.
- End over End – Occasionally rafts will flip end over end. This is usually after the raft has dump trucked to lighten the load, allowing the water to overcome the weight of the boat flipping it vertically before it lands upside down. Rafts will usually taco and turn sideways, making an end-over-end flip a very rare flip in most rafts.
- Flip Line – The flip line technique is the most used in commercial rafting where flips are common. The guide will take a loop of webbing that has a carabiner on it and attach it to the perimeter line on the raft, Standing on top of the upside down raft they will hold the line and lean to the opposite side from where the flip line is attached, re-righting the raft.
- Knee Flipping – Capsized rafts that are small enough with little or no gear attached can be knee flipped. This involves the rafter holding the webbing on the underside of the raft, and pushing their knees into the outer tube, and then lifting their body out of the water, leaning back to overturn the raft.
- T rescue – Much like the kayak technique some rafts are large enough that they need to be overturned with the assistance of another raft or land. Positioning the upturned raft or land at the side of the raft the rafters can then re-right the raft by lifting up on the perimeter line.
- Rock Splats If the rafters load the back of the raft, they can paddle the raft into a rock on the river, having it hit the bottom of the boat instead of the nose; if done correctly this can raise the raft up vertically on its stern.
- Surfing Commercial Rafts often use waves on rivers to surf.
- Nose Dunks Large rafts can enter hydraulics called holes from downstream and submerge their nose, or reverse taco. This can be a safe way to get rafters wet in a hydraulic.
Packrafting in Alaska, USA
White water rafting can be a dangerous sport, especially if basic safety precautions are not observed. Both commercial and private trips have seen their share of injuries and fatalities, though private travel has typically been associated with greater risk. Depending on the area, legislated safety measures may exist for rafting operators. These range from certification of outfitters, rafts, and raft leaders, to more stringent regulations about equipment and procedures. It is generally advisable to discuss safety measures with a rafting operator before signing on for a trip. The equipment used and the qualifications of the company and raft guides are essential information to be considered.
Like most outdoor sports, rafting in general has become safer over the years. Expertise in the sport has increased, and equipment has become more specialized and increased in quality. As a result the difficulty rating of most river runs has changed. A classic example would be the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon or Jalcomulco River in Mexico, which has swallowed whole expeditions in the past, leaving only fragments of boats. In contrast, it is now run safely by commercial outfitters hundreds of times each year with relatively untrained passengers.
Risks in white water rafting stem from both environmental dangers and from improper behavior. Certain features on rivers are inherently unsafe and have remained consistently so despite the passage of time. These would include “keeper hydraulics”, “strainers” (e.g. fallen trees), dams (especially low-head dams, which tend to produce river-wide keeper hydraulics), undercut rocks, and of course dangerously high waterfalls. Rafting with experienced guides is the safest way to avoid such features. Even in safe areas, however, moving water can always present risks—such as when a swimmer attempts to stand up on a rocky riverbed in strong current, risking foot entrapment. Irresponsible behavior related to rafting while intoxicated has also contributed to many accidents.
One of the most simple ways to avoid injury while out of a raft, is to swim to an Eddy (a calm spot behind a rock in the water which the current disperses around) to avoid being taken downstream.
To combat the illusion that rafting is akin to an amusement park ride, and to underscore the personal responsibility each rafter faces on a trip, rafting outfitters generally require customers to sign waiver forms indicating understanding and acceptance of potential serious risks. Rafting trips often begin with safety presentations to educate customers about problems that may arise.
White water rafting is often played for the adrenaline rush and this often becomes a problem for people and their own safety. White water rafting accidents have occurred but are not common.
Due to this the overall risk level on a rafting trip with experienced guides using proper precautions is low. Thousands of people safely enjoy raft trips every year.
Rafting in Montenegro
Like all wilderness activities, rafting must balance its use of nature with the conservation of rivers as a natural resource and habitat. Because of these issues, some rivers now have regulations restricting the annual and daily operating times or numbers of rafters.
Conflicts have arisen when rafting operators, often in co-operation with municipalities and tourism associations, alter the riverbed by dredging and/or blasting in order to eliminate safety hazards or create more interesting whitewater features in the river. Environmentalists argue that this may have negative impacts to riparian and aquatic ecosystems, while proponents claim these measures are usually only temporary, since a riverbed is naturally subject to permanent changes during large floods and other events.
Rafting contributes to the economy of many regions which in turn may contribute to the protection of rivers from hydroelectric power generation, diversion for irrigation, and other development. Additionally, white water rafting trips can promote environmentalism. By experiencing firsthand the beauty of a river, individuals who would otherwise be indifferent to environmental issues may gain a strong desire to protect and preserve that area because of their positive outdoor experience.
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