One of the most frequent worries I hear people express when they’re considering a whitewater rafting tour is “what if I fall out of the raft?” To this, my response is always the same: you’ll be ok. You may even have fun. Of course, there are inherent risks involved when you sign up for an adventure tour, and falling out of the raft is one of them. But speaking as someone who has been both rescuer and rescued, falling out is simply part of the adventure for some. And there is always a river full of experienced guides and able-bodied people willing to help you back into your raft if you end up taking an unexpected bath.
For example, on Wednesday, I had the immense pleasure of experiencing Desafío’s whitewater rafting tour down Costa Rica's Sarapiquí River. (For those of you looking to raft a river that packs a little more punch than Balsa, I HIGHLY recommend Sarapiquí.) The tour went off without a hitch and I was soon cruising down the river with my raft mates, a friendly father-and-daughters trio from Belgium, and our guide, Jeffry.
The whole trip was exciting; we quickly found our rafting rhythm and with Jeffry’s excellent instructions and expert eye, we navigated the rolling rapids as if we had all been born on the river. Then, it happened: the raft in front of us hit a particularly difficult rapid. A young man was bounced from the raft. His girlfriend reached for him. She couldn’t hold on.
We sprang into action.
Jeffry called for us to row forward with all our strength, and we poured our hearts and souls into our paddles. We could see the young man floating down the river, lying on his back as we were all instructed to do if we were to fall from our raft. He was travelling quickly, but we were faster. We caught up to him just as he was letting go of his paddle. (Don’t do that, folks! If you can hold onto your paddle, do so; that way, others can grab your paddle and pull you out of the river.) Defying all belief, the hero of this story was the youngest girl in our raft—a tiny slip of a thing who couldn’t have weighed more than 80lbs soaking wet. She stuck out her paddle for the man to grab. She pulled him to the edge of the raft, and, with the help of her father and myself, took hold of the shoulder straps of his life vest and hauled him to safety.
The man was shaken-up, but otherwise completely fine. And as we waited for his raft to pull up beside ours so he could return to his group, we couldn’t help but enjoy the sing of adrenaline and laugh at the craziness of what had just happened.
The rest of the rafting trip continued without incident, and we all made it back to our respective homes and hotels safe and sound—some of us feeling slightly more heroic than we did when we woke up that morning, all of us in one piece and with an incredible story to tell.
What to do if you fall out of your raft:
+ DO TRY TO GRAB THE RAFT’S SAFETY ROPE. Each raft is equipped with a rope that wraps around its exterior. If you fall into the river, try to grab and hold onto this rope before the current moves you away from the raft.
+ DO FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER ON YOUR BACK, FEET FIRST. If you find yourself traveling downstream, don’t worry. Just extend your feet out in front of you, float on your back, and wait for the closest raft to come to your rescue.
+ DO STAY CALM. Help others help you by staying calm and alert.
- DO NOT TRY TO SWIM. The river current is stronger than you are and swimming will only exhaust you and put you in danger of injury.
- DO NOT TRY TO STAND UP. You can easily slip or get your foot caught in the rocks, causing unnecessary injury.
- DO NOT LET GO OF YOUR PADDLE. The last thing on your mind when you fall into the river is your paddle; however, you can use it to help others pull you out of the river by extending it out so they can take hold of it and pull you closer to the raft.
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