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How to Survive a White-Water Rafting Accident

Know what to do before you find yourself tossed around by a raging river.


  • Step 1: Wear your life jacket Wear your life jacket. Make sure it's snug, and keep it completely buckled at all times. It's also a good idea to wear a helmet, and absolutely necessary in strong rapids.
  • Step 2: Try not to panic If you fall overboard, try not to panic. If you're not surfacing because the raft is above you, feel your way around it.
  • Step 3: Grab the line If you surface next to the raft, grasp the rope that's around the perimeter and hold on until someone can pull you in. If you're nearby, but not close enough to reach the rope, look toward your raft mates, who will likely extend a paddle for you to grab.
  • Step 4: Assume the position If you're out of reach of the raft, assume the white-water swim position: Lie on your back, legs extended downstream, with your head back and your toes above the water. Stay in this position until you're rescued or you find an opportunity to get to shore or back into your boat. Don't stand up: Your feet could get caught in rocks.
  • TIP: To assume the position, imagine yourself lying in a recliner.
  • Step 5: Catch the rope Listen for someone to yell, "Rope!" That's your cue to look for a rope being tossed your way. Grab it, hold it close to your chest, and position it so that it snakes over one shoulder as you float on your back. Never wrap it around your arm or body – you could get tangled in it.
  • Step 6: Stay safe While you're in the water, keep an eye out for obstacles, like rocks and trees. Avoid them by pointing your feet toward the obstacles and back paddling with your hands and arms. If you can't avoid a tree, try to pull yourself onto it.
  • Step 7: Fall into position If you hit falls, lie on your back, pull your knees up to your chest, and hug them. After you're through the falls, extend your legs again.
  • Step 8: Aim for shore If you're near the shore, position your feet toward the center of the river while back paddling; this may maneuver you toward land. Switch to freestyle swimming if you see an opportunity to swim to shore. Don't stand up until you can sit on the bottom of the river with your head above water.
  • FACT: Rapids are rated from Class 1 to Class 6, which is considered life threatening, even for expert rafters.

You Will Need

  • The ability to swim
  • A life jacket
  • A helmet
  • An abundance of caution

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