Typically first year raft guides are required to undergo a training program often run by the company before beginning to guide commercial trips. Guide schools utilize classroom and on-river experience to train students in rigging and maneuvering vessels; river flow and hazards; scouting and running rapids; and river rescue and emergency procedures. Trainees are required to have a minimum of Basic First Aid and CPR certifications. Additional advanced certifications such as Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, Swift Water Rescue, White Water Rescue or Emergency Medical Technician are strongly encouraged.
Training may include such skills as:
- Teamwork and leadership skills
- Safety on the river - hand signals
- Boating gear and equipment
- Commercial river operations
- Customer service - safety talks and guide "chatter"
- Whitewater paddling techniques
- River etiquette guidelines
- Problems, emergencies, advanced river rescues
- Knots and riggings
- Natural and the local history of the river
- Meal Preparation
- Job requirements
- Required guide equipment
- Life of a river guide
A typical raft guide is usually in his or her twenties but for some river lovers old habits die hard. The majority of raft guides are seasonal employees and work during the spring and summer months when rivers are flowing.
A raft guide's job is to keep people safe on the water. They are also tasked with entertaining customers and navigating the boat. Skilled guides are able to read river features and move the boat in a way so that everybody stays safe and has fun. On smaller rapids guides will turn the boat and go through rapids a certain way to ensure that everyone on the boat gets wet. On larger rapids it is the guides responsibility to keep the raft from flipping in unsafe places. An important part of the job is delivering the "Safety Talk". Before a trip, raft guides brief customers on potential hazards they may face on the water. Every raft guide has their own delivery style. Some safety talks include a lot of corny jokes (summer teeth) and others explain the dangers of the river in detail (foot entrapment). Most rookie guides will listen to veteran guides' talks and take bits and pieces of each to create their own. A good safety talk should cover equipment (PFD, paddle, helmet), how to self-rescue in event of a swim, and what to expect from your guide.
Types of guiding
Oar Guiding is where the guide maneuvers the raft with oars from either the stern or middle of the raft. On multi-day trips it is common to have a center oar rig where clients do not paddle, and where gear is stored. Guides oar guiding will use techniques such as 'walking the oars' through flat sections or 'holding a star' when stern rigged through large waves. Oar Guides generally have more control over their raft than paddle guides, but oar rigged rafts are dangerous when flipping and hard to re-right making them less versatile in big water rafting. Oar boats are often rigged to carry all of the gear for a trip.
Paddle Guiding is the most common type of high adventure guiding where the guide sits in the stern of the boat with a one bladed guide stick (paddle). Using draws, prys, the guide can influence the direction of the boat, along with using different paddling commands for their crew. Paddle guiding is the most fun form of rafting.
Bow Guiding is where two guides are in the boat, one in the stern and one in the bow. This can be done in a stern rigged boat, or a raft where both guides are paddle guiding. It is usually only done over short stretches of whitewater that require a lot of maneuvering for safe passage. Bow guides use techniques such as 'spearing' through large waves, and bow draws to quickly change the direction of the boat. Unlike stern guides the bow guide will never pry with their paddle, instead they will change the orientation of their hands to maintain a power grip in both directions.
Raft guide pay
Raft guides are paid by the trip, and greatly appreciate any tips they receive. They don't tend to make much money but they do enjoy having the coolest job ever.