Risk, Whitewater Safety and Wilderness Medicine: Why Professionalism Matters on the River

There is no such thing as a safe river.

Low-risk, yes; low-class rapids and easy eddies can be found on plenty of rivers, humming along with only the barest hidden hint of their steeper counterpart’s roaring cataracts. But all rivers, no matter how placid, remain wild. Sometimes it is easy to forget, in the slow heat of a summer’s day and the rush of a relatively tame wavetrain, the power that surges in the current beneath. On ninety-nine percent of river trips this isn’t a problem.

That last one percent is why we hire professional river guides.

Most of the work of a professional guide is behind the scenes. For an expert guide, a professional guide, this isn’t just another job; it is a craft, one that comes with a responsibility for the safety and lives of each and every guest. A professional guide will always place that responsibility above any personal gain or bottom line. They take the extra time to check river conditions and train in the latest medical protocols outside of work, running practice evacuations on the standardized evac routes on every river so they will be ready to act without hesitation in a real emergency. An expert guide makes sure they know every stretch of river they will run with guests like the back of their hand and can gauge how a rapid will change in high water or low, good weather or bad.

 The work of a good guide starts even before the first put-in of the rafting season, though. Months or years of training in swiftwater rescue, wilderness medicine and reading water lead to that single moment, when the raft is pushed into the water and the shore recedes in a rush of whitewater. Work doesn’t end when the river trip does, either; there is the daily debrief to discuss what went well and what could be improved, new river reports to be read, and even updates to the latest swiftwater rescue and cold-water medicine protocols to be analyzed and implemented. It is this extra time and effort that distinguishes the professional guide from the merely employed.

Here at Triad River Tours we only hire professional guides. Every guide at Triad is trained in the newest, safest river rescue protocols by the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and is kept up to date on cold-water rescue protocols and new river safety studies through the online company manual. Most Triad guides have advanced medical certification—Wilderness First Responder or EMT—and all Triad guides are certified in basic first aid. We test all of our safety gear to the highest industry standards and test both it and ourselves through practice evacuation and recovery scenarios throughout the season. Our evacuation routes and medical protocols, followed by every employee on the river, are based on the standards set by Remote Medical International. We go that extra mile that defines the professional guide and the professional guiding company in every aspect of our river trips.

Ninety-nine percent of rafting trips won’t require an evacuation, a whitewater rescue or a medical response, due in large part to the skill and pre-trip work of expert guides. But when you find yourself in that last one percent—when the river decides its time to remind you that no matter how close or far you are from home you are in the wilderness, and that wilderness is dangerous by its very nature—you want your boat in the hands of a true professional, a guide who puts their responsibility for the safety of their guests above all else.

That’s why Triad River Tours trains for that last one percent.