No one can guarantee that you won’t get tossed overboard when your river raft hits a big whitewater rapid. But if you’re not a fan of getting splashed in the face or bumped on the rump, the middle of the raft is probably your best bet.
To understand your options, however, let’s cover how a typical commercial whitewater rafting boat carries its passengers and what you can usually bank on in each area of the boat.
If you’re up for a thrill ride and want to get wet, head directly to the front of the raft. In this position you will not only hit rapids head-on, but you will be in the commanding position of setting paddling pace, which will be directed by your rafting guide in the stern or rear of the boat. That means the front is ideal for the most confident, fearless and adventurous boaters.
Typically considered the tamest spot in the raft, the middle seat avoids two things that can cause a rush of adrenaline (or anxiety): getting smacked with cold, soaking river water and experiencing the roller coaster-like bumps or “drops” in the back of the boat. So if you’re new to rafting or have some trepidation, the middle is likely the best choice.
That said, watch out for two things in the center position: 1) The “thwart” or inflated cross tubes. Don’t sit on top of these or you’ll get bumped hard by rocks under the boat. Wedge where the side of the raft and thwart connect. 2) Other rafters’ paddles. These could be flying around from riders in the front and back of the boat, so protect your head and body until everyone gets the paddling technique down pat.
This is the second smartest position for anxious boaters because you will always be within reach of the rafting guide, who will be managing the boat from the rear position. While sitting in the back you will feel some rebound rocking and bumping as the raft hits the bottom of each wave, but having an experienced guide nearby who can grab you if you start to go flying could give you peace of mind. This position also provides the full view of each rapid. Whether that perspective is a good thing or not depends on you.
No matter where you are in a raft, your safety depends on riding right—in a tripod position. So whether you’re in the front, middle or back, make sure you tuck your foot under the tube or foot cup, put your outside leg forward, keep your rear-end tucked between the raft edge and the cross tube—and when your guide gives the cue, paddle hard!