Exactly How Much Danger Is There When You White Water Raft?

Read all the media hype about the dangers of white water rafting? We did some research and came up with the following about how dangerous it really is.

If you look hard enough in media reports of adventurous sports and activities, you will no doubt see headlines referring to some tragic accident where someone was killed while white water rafting. What the media says about it is quite dramatic and filled with blame. Is the media right in some ways? What dangers come with rafting?

As I began writing the piece about rafting dangers, I figured I could easily find the research I needed. How come I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to get the right data and then to make comparisons of that data with other research?

I did manage to get a lot of data from New Zealand, as well as from America, but I had to use some very different methodologies to make sense of it. For example, there's data you can get with regard to user days, but other figures have to do with accidents for each million activity hours, or to accidents per participant.

The data referred to here comes from studies in various countries, including New Zealand, and are readily available on the internet. To circumvent that, I assumed that most rafting trips would last two to three hours. I took the higher end figures for injuries because I would think minor injuries would tend to be under-reported.


To get some perspective on this, my benchmark had to do with deaths and injuries for each 100,000 individuals, which is about how many people white water raft in New Zealand annually. It's hard to find data regarding the grade of rapid in which any problems happened, so this was ignored.

Injuries occurred that range between 106 and 179 for every 100,000 people participating in the activity. About 8 annually of such injuries are classified as serious, such as a fracture or worse. Half of the injuries happened inside the raft, as with being hit by a paddle, and the other half happened outside of it.

Of all the serious injuries, an average of one annually, have resulted in death since the rafting industry (NZ) started in 1978.

To get a sense of this, that one every year means 30 deaths for more than 3 million individuals who have gone rafting since the commercial rafting industry in New Zealand began.

What's the Comparison Between These Figures and Those of Other Nations?

It's just about impossible to get figures to compare with, although from some U.S. research I unearthed, those figures mentioned above would seem to be about the norm.

Actually, one study done in the U.S. using the distance travelled on a raft for a comparative base unit, said that there would be as much as 100 times more danger to drive a car that distance than to raft. To be sure, a second study disagreed and reported that rafting over a certain distance carried triple the risk of injury than travelling by car.

What's the Comparison Between Rafting and Other Adventurous Activities?

It's difficult to say exactly the ways that rafting compares to other activities. Horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, and surfing are the top four offenders with regard to the amount of injuries reported in New Zealand.

The comparisons on such injuries for such activities per 100,000 people participating are: 2,860 (horseback riding); 1,480 (mountain biking); 760 (hiking/tramping); 1,110 (surfing); however, I wouldn't worry about those figures too much because we can't tell the number of hours each person participated in that activity, while in rafting the average trip out is about two or three hours.

For example, commercial tours along with recreational riding are included in the activity of horseback riding. There are many recreational riders who are in the saddle for hundreds of hours annually, but they're still only counted as a single participant. That's the identical logic you can use with other categories of activity.

After Looking at This Closely, Can I Attest to the Safety of Rafting?

I must say that after all the reading I've done, and with my three decades of experience, rafting can't be certified 100 percent safe.

There are small odds, perhaps 1 in 558, (mostly a minor injury) of getting hurt while rafting, along with 1 in 100,000 odds of becoming a fatality.

So, certainly for most folks, it's just plain fun to go rafting.

How Can You Keep Safe When You Go Rafting?

After you've made the decision to go on a rafting adventure, you can take several simple steps to stay safe.

Such simple steps are:

** Select a river grade that suits your level of physical fitness, since the higher levels are usually more demanding, even though more paddling might actually be needed when you are rafting on a lower grade river.

** Understand your own physical limitations, and pay careful attention to what your guide says, both on the bank and in the water. Follow those instructions as best you can.

** Be certain to keep helmets and life jackets securely fastened whenever you're on the water.

The Most Enjoyable Activity in Which You Can Participate While Fully Clothed

The amazingly fun experience of rafting just can't be judged totally safe, and it never will be. Having said that, you definitely should take advantage of the fun and exciting adventure that is white water rafting.

The media gets into sensationalism and making a big deal of adventure accidents, including those that occur while white water rafting. But the truth is that you have small odds of becoming a statistic.

If you are looking for a rafting adventure, click here and you'll find out more information about New Zealand Rafting.

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