Frequently Asked River Rafting Questions

Question:  How dangerous is river rafting?

The blithe answer is. . . far less dangerous than driving your car.  The perceived risks are high; the actual risk is low.  Guides have an extraordinary amount of control over the route a raft will take in white water.  You are definitely not at the mercy of the elements.

However, it is not Disneyland and you are not on tracks; therefore, some inherent danger exists.  The control your guide has will depend – to some degree – in the ability of his or her paddlers.

If you have seen the movie The River Wild, disregard the final fifteen minutes and the hellacious whitewater.  Not even river rafting experts tackle that kind of white water unless they have cranes, winches, helicopters and Hollywood’s movie magic to eliminate most of the risks.

The leisurely river vacation is over.

Meryl Streep made rafting The Gauntlet look easy.

Question:  Do I need to know how to swim?

No. Personal flotation devices are worn at all times. They will keep you afloat even if you don’t know how to swim, or are unconscious.

On the other hand, knowing how to swim will give you a ‘leg up’ should you find yourself unexpectedly out of the raft and in the clutches of the current.

If the idea of falling out of the raft absolutely terrifies you, you should choose not to go rafting, or select the mildest whitewater possible.

Question:  How often do people fall out of the boat?

Not as often as you might imagine.

Believe it or not, we’ve kept track of this statistic through the years.  Approximately 1% of guests wind up in the water. The other thing to keep in mind is that falling into whitewater while wearing a lifejacket hardly ever means a life-threatening event. Most rapids can be floated safely in your flotation device.

Question:  How deep is the river?

The simple response is – river depths vary, but deep enough to be dangerous.

Slow, calmer stretches of water tend to be those that are deeper. Faster, choppy water tends to be shallow, often 4 feet deep or less.  Regardless of the depth, however, if you should find yourself overboard (this is rare, indeed) in fast moving water, the proper procedure is to float on your back, feet pointed downstream.  Don’t attempt to stand until the water is less than 18 inches deep.  When you reach calmer water, swim toward a guide or nearby raft, or swim to shore.

Question:  Is there a weight limit?

Technically, no.  However, even though rafting and paddling is not a particularly strenuous activity, if you fall out of the raft, we need to be able to haul you back into the raft.  If you are unable to get yourself into the raft, and you are too heavy for our guides to pull you into the raft, or it is exceedingly difficult to do so, you should reconsider signing up to go rafting.

Question:  What is the cancellation policy?

If you cancel before our 30-day deadline, we will refund your entire payment minus a single $25 cancellation fee. There are NO REFUNDS within 30 days of the trip date. If your trip is cancelled by Orion for safety reasons, your trip will be moved to a more appropriate day or river. No refunds will be given if these conditions arise.

Question:  What should I wear?

Washington weather is fickle and unpredictable while the water is always cold; consequently, Orion requires, provides and delivers wetsuits on all river trips with the exception of the Deschutes in north central Oregon and, often, the Skagit.

HOWEVER, even being clad head-to-foot in neoprene, additional river gear is often needed and strongly recommended.

At a minimum you should bring: warm, non-cotton, long-sleeve sweater and a raincoat or heavy windbreaker.

In addition you might consider, depending on current weather conditions and the river you are rafting: gloves, socks, cap, extra warm top.

Remember . . . Layers are preferable to bulk for trapping heat . . . a windbreaker of some sort is essential . . . and cotton is useless once it gets wet. Cotton shorts to wear over your wetsuit for extra grip and a more attractive look are fine. When cotton gets wet, your body spends more energy trying to dry the cotton clothing than it does trying to keep you warm. So, once again, NO COTTON! on the river.

Hint: Wear a swimsuit beneath your street clothes enroute to the river so that changing at the launch or meeting site will be hassle-free.

Question:  Can I bring my family?

Yes, depending on the Class of the river.  Rivers are rated from mild to wild.  (Class I to Class V) Our policy is 6 years of age and up on a Class II, 12 years and up on a Class III, 16 years and up on a Class IV and 18 years and up on a Class V.  For Class III rivers and beyond, the weight minimum should be 100 pounds (or 7 stones).   Of course, a river’s
classification can change with the water level.  (Usually, high water means more difficult and low water means less difficult.)  Whether a river is suitable or not for your child will depend on level, weather and time of year, as well as Class.

Question:  What kind of food is served out in the wilds?

On river trips, meals can be as elaborate as we want to make them. To begin with, all of our ingredients are fresh. Vegetarians will always have plenty of choices, even when we serve our ‘Seattle’s Pike Place Deli’ menu. The season’s freshest fruits and vegetables, chips, salsa and guacamole, and dessert breads are in addition to the main entrees which may include Mimi’s Southern tuna salad, Soft Taco or Redside chicken barbecue.

Deli lunch spread on the Sauk River.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are standard lunch river rafting fare.

Question:  Can I wear my clothes beneath my wetsuit?

No. They are too snug for jeans and, besides, you’ll want those clothes dry for your ride home.

Question:  Why can’t I wear cotton?

Your body does not generate enough heat to dry or counteract cold and wet cotton fabric.  Ever notice how synthetic fabrics dry faster than your cotton clothes in your dryer?  And since river rafting in Washington can be compared to voluntarily taking a cold shower every five minutes, whatever you wear on the raft is going to get soaked.  Consequently, we emphasize that your cotton fabric sweaters and t-shirts should be left behind.  Synthetic fiber sweaters and shirts go by the names of polypropylene, capilene, fleece and synchilla.

Question:  What should I bring on the raft?

As little as possible. Extra warm clothes, an inexpensive waterproof camera and any medications you might need in an emergency — an inhaler, epinephrine pin, insulin.

Question: What about my car keys?

Our Meeter Greeter will have a box for your keys, however:

Ideally, you will arrive equipped with a hide-a-key already tucked away on your vehicle. Or you could hide your keys in a clever location about or on your vehicle. Or you could bring your keys with you, but keep them in a zippered pocket on an item of clothing which you will wear all day.

The least ideal solution would be to place the keys in the dry bag on your raft.  Dry bags can be lost on the river and we do not want to be responsible for the loss of your car keys.

Question:  What about my valuables?

Leave them at home or hide them in your vehicle’s trunk.

Question:  Can’t I leave anything on the bus?

Absolutely not.  Chances are the bus you ride to the launch site will not be at the end of the trip when you arrive. So, the short answer is No.

Question:  Where do you stay on an overnight trip?

Here’s the bad news – we camp. . . in tents and sleep in sleeping bags on top of, relatively, thick and comfortable, pads.  You won’t even find a Motel 6 in the great outdoors.  The tents are provided; the bags and pads can be rented separately.

Question:  How do you get down the river?

Depending on the river and whether you have made arrangements in advance -

You have three options.

You can lounge like a lizard on an oarboat where a guide does all the work.  This is most likely on an overnight trip, or with arrangements made well in advance with the Orion office.  On our day trips, it might trigger additional fees.

You can be a part of a paddle crew and paddle the raft like a canoe, with a guide doing the steering.  This is the typical option.

Or, you can paddle alone in an inflatable ‘canoe’ after a half-hour of instruction.  Inflatable kayaks also need advance arrangements and are usually reserved for our overnight journeys.

Think of it as:  Adventurous, more adventurous, most adventurous.

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