A question we get a lot is what the heck do I do if I find myself on an unintentional swim? People do fall out whitewater rafting, not every time, not even every other time, but it does happen. Listening to your guide, paddling and being self-aware can help keep you in the boat. But sometimes it just happens. Not to worry, there are ways to get you back into the boat and most people aren’t in the water for very long. Every person rafting gets a thorough safety briefing before we get to the river, keep reading to learn some of the info we go over during each of our safety talks.
First thing’s first — welcome to the Hudson River Swim Team! The first rule of swim team is don’t panic! It can absolutely be a little bit alarming to be in the boat one moment and the water the next, but if you keep your wits about you and don’t panic you can get through just about any situation the river could put you through. Nine times out of ten, when people fall out of the boat they pop back up right next to it. Each PFD (lifejacket) has a large amount of floatation, more than many other jackets you may be used to wearing. In most instances when people fall out, they are immediately pulled back into the boat and keep on rolling.
Let’s say you’re a little farther away from the boat and can’t reach it. If you managed to hang onto your paddle you can use it as an extension of your arm and reach it back up toward the boat to get some help from your fellow raftmates. They can also do the same thing and use their paddles to reach it down to you in the water. You can either grab on or let yourself get reeled in fish hook style with the paddle hooked into your cheek. Whichever you prefer.
If you’re even farther away, you can’t reach the boat and you’re too far away for a paddle to reach, you’re in luck. Each guide has what’s called a throwbag. It’s a high-tech, NASA-engineered device that is literally just a bag filled with rope. Simple in design, effective in practice. What the guide does to deploy it is hold one end, and throw the other end at you. Hopefully, they have good aim and it sails smoothly over your shoulder. We’re not all baseball stars so it may not look that slick but it should get close to you. When it does, grab on! The key to getting pulled in is to hang onto the rope and NOT the bag. The bag has around 60 feet of rope in it, if you’re only out about 15 feet you’re going to go out a lot farther before we pick up enough tension to pull you back in. Sling it over your shoulder and hang on! Your guide will pull you back over to the boat.
Here’s the thing about the throwbag — it’s not always a good idea for your guide to introduce a bunch of rope into a dynamic environment like a river. If they decide not to throw the bag don’t get your feelings hurt, your guide will find another way to get you in. But for now, you’re on your own personal whitewater adventure! The important thing to remember is that swimming whitewater isn’t really swimming at all. It’s floating on your back with your feet up, toes sticking out of the water and arms out to the sides to maneuver, looking downstream so you can see any obstacles coming your way. Standing up or attempting to stand up can create a situation called foot entrapment which is very dangerous and hard to fix but easy to prevent. If your feet are never on the bottom of the river, they will never get stuck on the bottom of the river. If you’re “swimming” whitewater, your guide will paddle their raft over to you and pull you back in. All our rafting guests take the whitewater oath: I will not stand up in the river!
We won’t lie and say that swimming whitewater is one of our favorite things to do. However, all our guides have done it repeatedly and keep coming back for more. Each of our guides does their best to mitigate risk and keep you informed of what to do in case of an unexpected swim. If you’re like Cole here, you might even have the pictures to prove it at the end of the day!