River Raft Guide Training
River Raft Guide Training
At the beginning of each season whitewater rafting outfitters around the world evaluate their returning river guides and make plans to train new staff to fill in the holes vacated by those that have moved on. Rafting is a seasonal business in most locations around the world and turnover is common. Guides leave after the season and some return for many more. However, many guides move on to other rivers, other geographic locations or move on from river rafting altogether.
Training new river guides is akin to training someone to learn a new sport and set of skills and quickly advance to a professional level. Many new guides arrive at “guide school” with very little background in whitewater and must rely on athletic ability and brainpower to gain the skills necessary to pass the training course and receive a certification from the outfitter, state or country. Some come to the river to find work, but have experience in other craft such as kayaks and canoes.
New river guides spend long days on the water learning the skills to navigate whitewater rapids and the specific features of the rivers which they will work. Outfitters may provide videos of the rapids being run properly, maps of the rapids and written protocols on how to run each rapid.
Generally, repetition and keen teaching from river professionals at each company is what it takes for new guides to grasp all the skills needed. Often the entire sections of river are run over and over by the trainees and the senior staff that are teaching the newbies. These loops can be exhausting – paddle hard, learn how to steer, learn from the trainers and then when you are done with that run … carry the boat onto a trailer and take a drive back to the top for the next run!
River guide training has a strong emphasis on safety. Each rapid is memorized for its fun features but also its potential hazards. Safety and rescue training is part of all river guide classes and schools. Rescues are practiced in simulations on land and then practiced live in the river. Often new trainees get time as the “victims” in live rescue situations so that the entire class of trainees can practice rescue skills but also get to experience and appreciate the perspective of the rafting customer as they are rescued.
After a long day of rafting, guide schools often include classroom time to review concepts from the river, show video of the guides in action and to learn about the outfit’s customer service philosophy and style. Written quizzes and tests may be required to “pass” a course for an outfitter. Many outfitters require new guides to take practice or “check-off” river runs with Senior guides in the raft. When the Senior Boatperson “checks-off” that a new guide has completed training, and has also completed a set of practice runs to their satisfaction, they sign off and the new guide is ready to go. Further testing at the local, state or national level in different places around the world may be necessary to gain a license or certification to guide on the rivers that a new trainee has just completed training.