Is Rafting Safe for Non-Swimmers

rafting for non-swimmers

Rafting might very well be the ultimate water sport. It is the perfect balance between thrilling, adventurous, and leisurely.

It can be quite stimulating as it requires not only arm strength but also proper balance and significant leg work to keep the boat upright, which is why rafting for non-swimmers might not be a good idea.

While it’s a thrilling sport, rafting is also quite dangerous. Steering a raft through tumultuous waters is not exactly a piece of cake.

It requires strength, resilience, teamwork, and skill. In case the raft comes up against an unexpected obstruction in the river, it may even topple over.

Here is where you need to rely on yourself for rescue, and this is where your swimming skills can help you make it through.

Swimming Requirements for Different Rafting Levels

Swimming Requirements For Different Rafting Levels

There are a total of 6 levels of river rafting. Each level marks the level of difficulty as determined by the river rapids.

Even though we’ve already established that swimming is critical for survival when you’re out rafting, most river rafting companies do take non-swimmers out on comparatively calmer waters.

Up until level three, basic swimming is preferred but not an absolute necessity. It is possible to go rafting even if you cannot float.

As per safety requirements, all rafters must wear life jackets that can help keep them afloat while the instructor arranges an extraction.

The first three levels are considered softer waters.

Participation from each member is not a must on these trips, which is why even novices can join a group without posing any danger to the other participants.

However, as the ranking increases, the water becomes more challenging. Level 4 and above falls under the hard water classification in which participation from each member becomes a must.

All members present on the boat must paddle together to be able to navigate the vessel through hard waters.

Out on such waters, river rafting companies do not accommodate non-swimmers as they may pose a threat to the safety of others.

Rafting on currents level 4 and above requires strength, skill, and experience.

New rafters have a higher chance of falling out on class 4 rapids. While many enjoy the dip in the water, it is also distressing experience.

Your survival depends on you, and being able to maintain a calm mind in such a situation is absolutely necessary. It is a life-saving skill that takes significant time to master.

Even though swimming is not a requirement for even class 3 rapids, we do not recommend rafting for non-swimmers even at that level.

It is best if they stick to level 2 at max and learn at least necessary survival skills before they go on a rafting excursion.

Can I Do White Water Rafting if I Can’t Swim?

Can I Do White Water Rafting If I Can't Swim?

White water rafting is just another name for river rafting. We do not recommend rafting for non-swimmers.

However, most companies do take even non-swimmers out for an excursion on calmer river waters that are classified as 1 or 2.

Some even accommodate them in class 3 rivers. However, it is more challenging than the other two and is thus riskier.

How Dangerous Is White Water Rafting?

The perceived danger level for each rafting trip depends on the classification level of the river’s rapids.

Death by drowning is the number 1 danger of river rafting, especially for non-swimmers.

They tend to panic, and their frantic movements let the river current get the upper hand, taking them under.

Rafting is a strenuous exercise, which is why overexertion is the second most common reason for deaths when rafting.

The sport entails prolonged exposure to heat and the sun. Combine the physical exertion with the relentless heat, and it becomes a severe health risk.

River water is almost always icy as it comes from melted snow or spring run-off.

If throughout the trip, the boat overturns, or you lose balance and tip over, the cold water seeping into your clothes sends shock waves down the body.

The sudden temperature change can lead to hypothermia. If allowed to remain in the water for extended periods, a person even runs the risk of losing their limbs.

Injuries are more common than deaths when river rafting. All river rafting companies deliver a pre-rafting training session that teaches all participants basic survival skills.

You can use the training to keep you afloat and survive. However, avoiding injuries is another thing.

Once in the water, you will hit rocks, and that will hurt!

People who fall into the water often get out with severe cuts and bruises. Because rocks and other obstructions are part of the river, avoiding them is incredibly difficult.

Your raft my hit a rock, propelling all those aboard the vessel into the water. Non-swimmers can find such a situation very panic-inducing.

Their inexperience leaves them susceptible to mistakes, which could possibly lead to entrapment in the river bed.

What Happens If You Fall out While Whitewater Rafting?

What Happens If You Fall Out While Whitewater Rafting?

Falling out of your river raft will definitely not be the highlight of your rafting trip.

Being plunged into ice-cold water on a warm summer afternoon might be refreshing for the adventure seekers out there, for those who are experiencing whitewater rafting for the first time, it is quite a harrowing experience.

When you do fall out, the initial contact with cold water sends shock waves down the body. At that moment, control over the senses is most important.

The current will pull you along, and your waterlogged clothes will weigh you down.

The chances are that if you are entirely inexperienced and were inattentive during the pre-draft trip river safety class, your feet might hit the river bed, which is quite dangerous.

The bottom is made of uneven, disjointed rocks, and your foot may get stuck.

You could also be swept away from the inflatable raft and with nothing to hold on to.

It’s also possible that you’ll start to swallow large gulps of water as you constantly go under the water and then come back up.

However, in such a dangerous situation, the key to survival here is resilience. Try to hold on to your senses and follow these steps.

  • Grab on to the side of the boat as soon as you are thrown off. Try to hold on to the rope extending along the length of the raft as it is the easiest thing to hold.
  • Remember two words, ‘nose and toes.’ Keep your nose above the surface level so that you can breathe and are not drinking river water. The same goes for your toes. They must be visible over the surface so that they don’t get caught in the river bed.
  • If you find yourself plunged away, first get your toes up and facing downstream. Then, use your arms to turn towards the raft and maneuver your way to the boat. This position is known as defensive swimming.
  • If you are within 75 feet of the boat, a rescue rope will be thrown your way. Put it over your shoulders and keep a firm hold on one end. Make sure you stay on your back as being pulled in on your stomach just means that you’ll end up swallowing river water.
  • Once you reach the vessel, help the guide get you back on board. You can do that by making sure you face the raft during the rescue operation. This way, once you’re halfway up, you can look for something else to grab and pull yourself up. It also helps distribute the weight as you can let the weight fall on your belly.
  • Do not attempt to stand up unless you are absolutely sure you are near the shore. Getting there may prove quite challenging. A river generally has some calm sections that you can take advantage of. Utilize those breaks to guide your way to the shore.
  • Once at the shore, signal that you are okay and need to be picked up. The guide can arrange for transport that can take you back to base camp.

Why Is It Not Advisable To Go Rafting for Non-Swimmers?

Why Is It Not Advisable To Go Rafting For Non-Swimmers?

Non-swimmers tend to panic when thrown overboard in fast currents.

They tend to flail around, which can become a threat to their lives and to that of their rescuer. In such situations, guides often have to knock the panicking person out to save both their lives.

Swimming lessons teach you more than just how to maneuver through the water. Through swimming, a person learns how to remain calm when they come in contact with cold water.

Often, our body becomes too numb to do much, which is why a person must know how to do a deadman’s float.

It also teaches you how to bounce with the water’s current and still be able to maintain as much control as the situation allows.

Rafting for non-swimmers, while possible, is nothing short of a gamble, which is not advisable at all.


All year long, many people go rafting without major incidents.

However, it is always a good idea to do some research before you undertake a new sport.

Knowing what you are up against helps when it comes to tackling emergencies.

As far as rafting for non-swimmers goes, it is not advisable to participate in the sport regularly without the necessary swimming skills.

At the very least, a rafter must know how to do the dead man’s float and how to maneuver their weight in the water.

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