Whitewater Rafting FAQs

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Whitewater Rafting : Frequently Asked Questions

Which rafting trips are best for me?
What happens on a typical rafting trip?

Is the trip all whitewater?

Will I get seasick?
What type of boat will I be in? Will I be expected to paddle?

Do I need to be young and fit to go rafting?

Can I bring young children on a rafting trip?
Do I have to know how to swim?

What should I pack, and what should I wear on the river?

Can I bring my camera or video camera?

What are the guides’ qualifications?

Should I tip my guide?
What about the privy?

Is alcohol permitted?
How's the food?

Can you accommodate my special dietary needs?
Do I need travel insurance?
Is O.A.R.S. licensed to conduct river trips?

Is O.A.R.S. willing to provide references from previous guests?

Which rafting trips are best for me?
When choosing your whitewater rafting trip, consider the location, length of trip, time of year, activity level and age range of your group. O.A.R.S. offers trips ranging in length from ½ day to 8+ days; scenery ranging from the Canadian Arctic to the Fijian Highlands or from the alpine rivers of Idaho to the canyons of the desert Southwest; and activity levels ranging from leisurely adventure, to off-the-chart adrenaline-pumping rafting trips. The choice is yours...

What happens on a typical rafting trip?
Our goal, since 1969, has been to help people enjoy "the best outdoor experience of their lives." Every day on the river brings a new experience, whether it’s spending a ½ day experiencing your first rapids, spotting wildlife, hiking to ancient petroglyphs or staying up late to watch shooting stars.  However, there are certain things you can count on. A Day with O.A.R.S.–What to Expect on your O.A.R.S. Whitewater Vacation details everything from breakfast to bathrooms.

  • Multi-Day Trips: You may expect to spend part of your day traveling down river and another part hiking, exploring or relaxing on dry land. We stop mid-day for a wonderful lunch spread, and you typically arrive at camp early enough to explore, read, nap, play horseshoes or share a cocktail.
  • Half-Day & One-Day Trips: Though most of our one-day rafting trips include a hearty lunch, plan to spend most of your day on the river. Side excursions on day trips are limited as we want to maximize your river time for the day!
Is the trip all whitewater?
No.  Most rivers are “pool and drop,” meaning there are exciting rapids interspersed with stretches of calm, relaxing floating, allowing you time to soak up the natural serenity. From a casual Class I float to maximum intensity Class IV & V whitewater, the ride itself is a lot of fun. However, we only spend a short amount of the long, lingering days in the rafts. The stops along the way are selected to provide excellent opportunities for walking, hiking, birding, wildlife viewing and simply immersing yourself in the magic and the majesty of the region.

Will I get seasick?
The chances of getting seasick are very low. River running is not like being at sea and does not seem to induce seasickness.

What type of boat will I be in? Will I be expected to paddle?
O.A.R.S. offers an entire fleet of choices for your whitewater rafting experience. (Not all boat options are available on all rivers). You are the engine on a paddle raft: everybody paddles while the guide shouts instructions (4 - 8 paddlers). In an oar raft, your guide pilots the raft with long oars as you relax and enjoy the ride (2-4 passengers). You help your guide in a paddle raft with oar-assist combination, which is used mainly on maximum intensity Class IV-V whitewater (2-6 paddlers). It's just you and the water in an inflatable kayak, which is a fun option in low- to mid-intensity rapids on many of the rivers we run (1 or 2 paddlers). Dories are traditional and charmingly elegant rigid boats made of wood or fiberglass-covered foam. Dories offer passenger benches and hardwood rails and trim. (2-4 passengers).

Do I need to be young and fit to go rafting?
O.A.R.S. adventurers range in age from 4 to 84 and older. There are some physical requirements for joining our trips, weight restrictions may apply, and being healthy and reasonably fit certainly makes the experience more rewarding. People with medical conditions, including pregnancy, should have a physician's approval before taking an adventure travel trip. Persons with various disabilities are welcome on O.A.R.S. trips, pending a discussion of any special requirements. If you're in doubt about your fitness to go rafting, we recommend checking with your doctor before you go.

Can I bring young children on a rafting trip?
O.A.R.S. invites children as young as four on some of our family rafting trips, although seven is the more common minimum age for Class III rivers. We want your kids to have the time of their lives, and we want you to be relaxed and able to appreciate their enthusiasm and delight. We shoulder the work and sweat all the details as you watch your child gain confidence and thrive in the natural world. O.A.R.S. offers more than 20 itineraries designed especially for family adventure.

Do I have to know how to swim?
All O.A.R.S. guests must wear our Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Devices (aka PFDs or life jackets). Should you fall out of your boat, the PFD is designed to float you face up in the water. Before you get into your boat, however, our guides will give a detailed safety talk and show you how to properly “swim” a rapid. Please be advised our U.S. Coast Guard approved PFDs are rated to accommodate persons no heavier than 260 pounds and with a chest size no larger than 56 inches.  We are experienced at accommodating people of all ages and abilities.

What should I pack, and what should I wear on the river?
In collaboration with our guides and operations managers, our expert adventure consultants, who have nearly 950 river trips among them, have compiled detailed packing lists for each trip we offer. These documents include advice on everything from footwear (if you plan to buy footwear for your trip, make sure to make your purchase far enough in advance and break in until comfy) to what to wear on the boat and in camp, as well as what personal items are a must (e.g. water bottle & sun protection). What to bring on your rafting trip, and what to wear on the river, is as varied as the itineraries themselves. Your gear will depend on the time of year, water temperature and the weather for your trip.


Can I bring my camera or video camera?
Of course! On all of our multi-day rafting trips, we provide each party with a small waterproof bag (17" tall x 9" diameter-approximate sealed size) to hold your camera and other items you might want during the day. It is secured in a readily accessible spot on the boat. While our bags are waterproof, to further protect your camera you may wish to place it in a zip-loc plastic bag, or special waterproof camera case. We also recommend padding it with a small towel or clothing. Sand can be a problem, so clean your camera every night with tissue, a brush and lens paper. We also strongly recommend you take out a rider on your homeowner's policy to cover your camera-especially if it's fine equipment. If you are planning to bring a digital camera make sure to carry additional memory cards, batteries, and any other extras you will need. Disposable waterproof cameras are also a fun option.

What are the guides’ qualifications?
O.A.R.S. guides set us apart! They are the single most complimented component of our organization. They share our appreciation for rivers and natural ecosystems. They are reliable, responsible, experienced and committed to enhancing your experience. All are qualified in CPR and First Aid; many have earned certification in advanced first aide and swiftwater rescue. They also know their territories. Not just the river’s moods and the best way to handle the rapids in a high spring flow, but also the difference between a beaver tail cactus and a barrel cactus, a pictograph and a petroglyph. They know people, too. They’re friendly, open, and approachable. They’re there because they want to share and learn along with you. So that our guests can take the best advantage of the guides’ skills and personalities, we maintain the best guest-to-guide ratio in the business: one guide for every four guests. One to four: it’s our acknowledgement that relationships are just as important as whitewater.

Should I tip my guide?
Guests often ask whether gratuities are appropriate, and in what amount. If you feel your guides have provided a very special trip for you, a gratuity may be left with the trip leader and will be shared among the crew. Entirely discretionary, anything between 5% and 10% of trip cost is a general tipping guideline. If you plan to tip, remember to bring a personal check or cash - ATMs are hard to find in the backcountry!

What about the privy?
While the idea of a river trip is appealing to most people, many are inhibited or reluctant because of modesty or uncertainty. To minimize our impacts, we carry out all solid human waste and use a portable toilet system that is set up each day at camp in a secluded location where privacy is assured. It is essentially a toilet without plumbing and is available from the time you pull into camp each afternoon until you leave camp the next day.

We also carry a small container called the “day tripper” that can be easily accessed during the day should the need arise. It is a personal disposable toilet, which includes an odor-proof transport bag, chemical solidifier and odor eliminator, toilet paper and oversized hand wipe.

Is alcohol permitted?
Where it is not prohibited by local or national park regulations, our overnight trips include enough beer and wine to allow for about 2 drinks per person per night. Feel free to bring more beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages as long as they are in unbreakable containers. We provide some ice for drinks and a cooler for beer (or where space is limited, beer is “river cooled”). Drinking water is available at all times and meals include juice, coffee and tea.  Drinking alcohol is limited to camping and lodging areas only, and is strictly prohibited while on the water. Alcohol is not permitted on our ½-day and 1-day trips.

How's the food?
The meals we serve on our rafting trips are hearty and sumptuous, complete with fresh fruits and vegetables throughout your entire journey. Our menus feature great camp cooking in a wilderness atmosphere. Wake up to pancakes, omelets, or eggs cooked to order, complemented by bacon or sausage, juice, and plenty of fresh-brewed coffee, tea and cocoa. Satiate your appetite at lunch with a delicious spread of cold cuts and cheese on assorted breads, hummus and veggies in soft pitas, or tasty taco salad wraps. At the dinner table, our guides' cooking skills truly shine. You may snack on hors d'oeuvres while waiting for vegetables, pasta, rice, and the main course: steak, grilled salmon, Baja tacos, sizzling fajitas, or perhaps a delicious Dutch oven lasagna. Vegetarian options are available if you tell us of your preference ahead of time. And, if you can find room, desserts are frequent. Expect to eat as well - or better - than you do at home, without having to do any of the work.

Can you accommodate my special dietary needs?
We need to know as soon as possible about any dietary requirements we should consider in planning your trip. If you have food allergies or restrictions, we will do our best to accommodate your needs. However, some specific needs can only be met if we charge you a supplemental menu fee to cover our increased costs. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you let us know well in advance, we can provide meals for you without additional cost. We cannot always provide for the same diversity or sophistication as our regular menu for special dietary requests.

Do I need travel insurance?
Although every effort is made to provide a safe trip for all, we strongly recommend that you protect yourself, your belongings, and your vacation through the purchase of a short-term traveler’s policy.  A trip cancellation policy covers your non-refundable payments in most cases, should you have to cancel your trip due to illness or injury even at the last minute.  Trip participants should realize that in the event of illness or injury on a river trip, evacuation can be prolonged, difficult and expensive.  Personal belongings and cameras are carried entirely at the owner’s risk, and O.A.R.S. accepts no responsibility for lost, damaged, delayed or stolen property. Please call our 1-800-346-6277 or 1-209-736-4677 or email info@oars.com for more information.

Is O.A.R.S. licensed to conduct river trips?
Yes. The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the state's park services are charged with protecting our wilderness. Members of the O.A.R.S. family of companies are proud to hold permits with these agencies, allowing us to conduct trips on protected land and water that might otherwise be inaccessible to most members of the public.

Is O.A.R.S. willing to provide references from previous guests?
Yes.  O.A.R.S. is more than happy to provide prospective travelers with names and contact information of past guests who have agreed to be references.  Call any of our friendly adventure consultants at 1-800-346-6277 or 1-209-736-4677 or email us at info@oars.com, and we will happily provide you with that information.



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Outside Travel Awards 'Best Outfitter' Runner Up National Geographic Adventure Magazine - Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth As Featured On 50 Tours of a Lifetime - National Geographic Traveler Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservations Manager Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist 2007-2013 (River Rafting) Best of the Bay Area Winner

For consecutive years, O.A.R.S. has been named the "Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth" by National Geographic Adventure and one of the top two outfitters in the world by Outside Magazine in its annual Active Travel Awards recognition program. In multiple years, O.A.R.S.trips have been honored as "50 Tours of a Lifetime" by National Geographic Traveler and since 2007, Condé Nast Traveler has recognized Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S. Reservation Manager and International Adventure Travel Consultant, as Condé Nast Traveler's standalone Top Travel Specialist in the River Rafting category.

Questions about trips or making reservations? Contact info@oars.com or call 800-346-6277 in the USA or Canada or 1-209-736-4677 if outside the USA or Canada.
©2014
O.A.R.S. Companies Inc.,
PO Box 67, Angels Camp, CA 95222