River Safety

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River safety on a multi-week river trip is one of the most important aspects of an enjoyable Grand Canyon river trip.

The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is different than most other rivers and some safety techniques may be particularly applicable to the Grand. The rapids you will encounter are generally friendly to swimmers but the Colorado is such a big cold river that it is often hard to get to someone quickly. The shore is usually a long ways away. Hypothermia is a concern and flush drownings, especially where there are existing medical conditions, can occur.

One of the most important safety measures is to allow time for a rescue. This means avoiding difficult rapids late in the day and getting on the river early. Righting a fully loaded raft usually takes a lot of time. One person with a flip line is probably not going to work. While we are here have you ever practiced righting a flipped raft? If you have not before the trip is a good time to practice even if it is with an empty raft. If you are renting a raft then maybe you should try it at the boat ramp before loading the raft. If you end up in a situation where you have to call in a helicopter for your group or another group or a hiking group it is going to take a lot of time. First, the helicopters may already be in use and not immediately available. Second, they may require some time just to locate the group. And it may take some time just to find a spot to be able to contact them in the first place. If it is late in the afternoon the helicopter may say they cannot get there until the next morning to avoid having to fly in the dark.

The following Chapters on river safety owe their roots to Gary Jones, a formally river rescue trained and experienced river rescue participant. Thanks Gary!

What to Expect Tomorrow

This section covers on-the-river safety to be done in camp the evening before each river day.

Who is in charge?

This chapter covers who is in charge of river safety, your role, the Boatman's role, and the Trip Leader's role.

Life Jackets

This chapter covers types of life jackets, their condition and the fitting of life jackets.

On the Trip Training

This chapter covers such things as practicing with a throw bag and getting into the boat from the water.

River Signals

Communicating on the river without using your voice is an important skill, and should be reviewed at the start of your trip. There are various signaling techniques, including using Hand Signals , Whistles and Hand Held Radios . Your group should agree on what certain signals mean. This section covers some basic signals. Your group may modify these signals, but be consistent within your group, and practice your signaling.

While on the water…

This chapter has information on orienting yourself on the boat, and discusses high-siding.

Boat Order

This chapter has information on how not to miss lunch and camp.

If you fall in the water…

This chapter has information on how to swim in a cold hydraulic river, and how to help your rescuers get you out of the river.

Flip Lines

This chapter is a discussion of flip-lines.

If your Boat Flips…

This chapter covers topics like finding yourself under the boat, how to swim a rapid, where to be around a flipped boat, and how to get a flipped boat to shore.

If you are the Rescuer

This chapter talks about communication, multi-person rescue and team work.

Medical Issues

This chapter talks about how to protect from the sun while on the boat and how to distribute prescription medications, among other things.


This chapter offers advice on preventing Covid and then, if it shows up on your trip, what to do about it.

After a Flip or Swim

This chapter talks about inner space care. This is just as important as getting a swimmer out of the water.

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