Rules of the River

Rules of the River

Despite their reputation as hooligans, river guides have their own keenly developed sense of etiquette that governs everything from relationships to boat spacing.

From the Rogue River to the Colorado, here are a few of the most important Rules of the River:

Don’t bump into another guide’s raft. In a grand sense, keeping good spacing between rafts— not too much and not too little— is an important part of boating safety. It’s considered rude to crowd another guide and impede his maneuvering and bumping into other rafts is an even bigger no-no. Even a slight bump can knock someone’s boat out of the current or onto a rock.

Green river rafting trip, Desolation Gray section, Utah.
Green river rafting trip, Desolation Gray section, Utah.

Don’t “pluck someone’s chicken.” There are about a million ways to do any given chore on the river and every guide is guaranteed to have one way they think is best. Good river etiquette dictates that if someone is working on something, it’s impolite to “help” by coming over to correct their methodology and take over. This idiom has some crasser variations, but “don’t pluck my chicken” is a discrete, playful way of saying “Hey, back up and let me finish.”

Ship your oars. When pulling over for a stop, tuck your oars forward or back to make room for the next raft to pull in next to you.

Don’t go onto someone’s boat without their permission. For nomadic river guides who don’t set up tents unless it’s raining— and maybe not even then— their raft becomes a special kind of personal space, akin to a bedroom or tent. After boats are parked and unloaded for the evening, it’s polite to alert a guide before stepping onto her boat.

Don’t crowd other campers. Although emergencies sometimes necessitate sharing camps— and occasionally it can be fun to bond with neighbors— it’s polite to camp out of eyesight, or at least out of earshot, of other parties to preserve the wilderness experience for everyone as much as possible.

Green river rafting trip, Desolation Gray section, Utah.
Green river rafting trip, Desolation Gray section, Utah.

The barter-system. In the backcountry, all boaters can keep an eye out for each other, not just those on your crew. An unofficial bartering system among boaters creates a common marketplace, where it’s possible to get extra salt or borrow a propane tank in a pinch with a standard, friendly price of a couple of beers, or a case, depending on the magnitude of the favor.

Following these rules of the river will keep you out of trouble, especially when you realize you forgot the bacon at the launch.

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