Safe Rafting! Yes, It Does Exist in India!

Have you also been privy to or part of any such conversations about rafting in Rishikesh. Its time you woke up. While a lot of people die challenging the mighty Ganges, only when a Delhi person died, did we get to know through news.

Read this article on Times of India about dangerous rafting  stories where people almost died because they were rafting with inexperienced and un-certified guides.

[Edit – 21/5/17] The above article mentions that 30% of the rafting companies are  illegal. On ground, this number is more than double. Yes, More than 60-70% are illegal/ unlicensed, like our road side tea shops. [/Edit]

According to a campaign to reform Rafting Industry, Paddle Safe India, “The current river rafting scene in Rishikesh is a mess. Out of the 450 businesses operating on the river, only 140 are licensed operators. Every day you can see rafts that are not river-ready: their guides aren’t wearing helmets, there are more than 8 people in a raft, or – all too common – there are no safety kayakers accompanying them. This puts everyone on the river at risk. So remember: before you head out for rafting, be sure to check for safety precautions!”

Its time we realize that Rafting in a violent river – which we take so casually, is a dangerous adventure sport and like every adventure sport, there are international guidelines for Rafting as well.

“If you want to play this sport, play it with rules, and play it well.”

Nimesh at his Kayaking course

I have done rafting multiple times in Rishikesh. I have also taken services of inexperienced guides many times, till the time I did not know. However, I went for a Kayaking course with Expeditions India and that’s where I got to know about international standards of rafting and kayaking and saw international standard equipment.
After that, I have never done rafting with any un-certified guides. I have only hired services of certified, experienced and respected guides. I felt safe to the extent that I got my mother, aunt, wife and cousin with me to the rafting with them (And responsibility for all of them was indirectly on me because I was the perpetrator of this adventure 🙂 )

So, as laymen what can we do to have a safe rafting for self, for friends and for family. While, I can direct you to rafting guides directly, you should first know what makes a rafting trip safe.

First read these Basic Minimum Standards for Water Based Activities – River Running from the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism. See Page 5. The guidelines give a detailed idea about equipments (helmets, life jackets, etc. should be US Coast Guard Type V), who can be a guide, who should not do rafting and everything else that helps make it safe.

After you read this, how will you deal with the rafting guide? You cannot ask him to read complete guidelines, just like you don’t ask someone on road to read Motor Vehicles Act. Most of them are just as much literate as any tax driver on road. They have learned the trade from seniors, and haven’t done any certified training.

Here are 5 questions you can ask any rafting operator according to Paddle Safe India. (These are derived out of the guidelines given above). If they can answer with satisfaction, you can go ahead:

  1. Are you licensed by the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board? (Ask to see the license.)
  2. Who are the guides running your trips? How many years of experience do they have? Do they have their First Aid certification? (If so, ask to see the certification and check the expiration date.) Do they have Swiftwater Rescue certifications? (If so, ask to see the certificate and make sure it’s from an outside agency.)
  3. Where do your personal floatation devices (life-jackets) come from? Are they Type V (US Coast Guard approved) or locally made? Do you have working helmets available for all guests and guides?
  4. Will an experienced, licensed safety-kayaker (or cataraft with qualified guide) be accompanying us? What type of kayak will the safety-kayaker be using? (S/he should use a creek-boat or river-runner as opposed to a play-boat.)
  5. Will there be any children accompanying us? (It is illegal to take children younger than 14 years old on the river, unless it is a float trip – [rapids Grade II and below], in which case it may be relaxed to 10 years.

FYI, there are courses in India on river rescue by Rescue3 International.

[Edit 22/5/17]
According to Bhupendra Rana, founder of Rescue3 India and founder of Ganga Kayak Festival (GKF), “It is important to be a licensed guide from UK Tourism Development Board but these are not actual licenses. They are simply a “Id Card”. Unfortunately, getting these Id cards is not too hard as the tourism board doesn’t have a river guide test up to the international standards. Also, these Id cards are only issued once every 3 years without any physical and written/theoretical tests on or off the river! According to International Rafting Federation (IRF) standards – you must get your river guide license renewed every two year and Rescue 3 International certification every 3 years (2 years for pro level) as well as the valid first aid certification.”

River Rescue Course being conducted in Rishikesh

There are minimum prerequisites to become a river raft guide or a safety kayaker:

  1. Level 1: Basic River Guide Training
  2. Level 2: International Rafting Federation assessment for different levels. This requires a minimum of 30 training river trips for class 2 guide.
  3. Whitewater Rescue Technician: By Rescue 3 International or River Rescue Certification by Sierra Rescue International.
  4. Basic First Aid certification by Red Cross or NOLS or equivalent.

All of these courses can be found at India’s first & only Rescue Company “Rescue India” certified by International organizations (mentioned above).

So, there are no excuses for the guides. Most of the top players in Rafting follow the rules safe and have their guides certified. They are expensive than local guides, but safety has a price.

[Edit – 22/5/17]
“Changing the rafting scene in Rishikesh and India is like teaching an old dog a new trick. However, it is never too late for a better tomorrow. If you’re a river guide who takes customers down the river for a living then there should not be any excuses to get yourself properly trained. If you are a customer, you should ask for this training from your guide in advance”, adds Rana.

“Safety kayakers should also be required to get a license to work on the river. Most of these kayakers lack communication between the raft guides. The prerequisites required for the safety kayakers are same as that for raft guides.”, says Trina Rana, Marketing Director of Rescue India. Read more about rescue India at bottom.

Participants at River Rescue Course

Rescue Techniques being taught

I’ll further clear some facts/ give suggestions:

  1. Cost: Safe rafting will cost you min. Rs. 1000 per person and goes upto 3000 per day or more, for a full day rafting (32 km road distance) depending on distance and lunch inclusion.
  2. No. of people: A raft should not have more than 8 people.
  3. Life Jacket: A life jacket is a misnomer. No jacket saves your life. Its called a PFD – Personal Floatation Device. It only helps you float.
    (Life jacket is of much less help in a whirlpool – and there are many whirlpools in a violent river.)
  4. Swimming in Ganga: No level of swimming skills are enough to swim in a violent and might river like Ganga is in Rishikesh. Many expert swimmers have tried and have drowned.
  5. Follow Rules: Follow every instruction of your experienced and certified guide religiously. DO NOT compromise your safety if you want to come back and meet your family alive.

    [EDIT – 21/5/17]
  6. No Liquor: Do not consume liquor atleast for 18 hours before the rafting trip. You don’t want to take risk of drowning, right? A good operator will not allow you either.
  7. Do Not Book from Road-side operators: Do pre-booking from licensed operators as most of them don’t take short-notice bookings. Do not depend on references of ‘auto-drivers’ etc.

[EDIT- 23/5/17]

About Using PFDs

According to Anvesh Thapa, Founder/Director of Expeditions India – “PFDs (Personal Floatation Device) which are properly worn (Read correct fit, properly buckled, secured straps) play a life-saving role in whirlpools. Whirlpools suck you down, but when you get to the bottom, the buoyancy of the PFD pops you back up to the surface. Often, you’re sucked back down again, but inevitably, you will be popped to the surface again and again (with a properly worn PFD on).”

“Most people panic in whirlpool situations and suck in a lot of water. If you get into a whirlpool, remain as calm as possible, and wait until you get popped up to the surface of the water. Once on surface, take a breath, look around and swim toward the direction of the flow, as self rescue is the quickest way to get out of a whirlpool. Hopefully safety rescuers will also be working to get you out of there.”, adds Thapa.

Check out this video on usage of PFDs.


I hope this articles puts some sense of safety in our heads. So, next time, do not take any chances and follow the above. If you have any questions, ask here. Either I will answer, or I will ask the experts mentioned here.

Be Brave!  Be Wise!  Be Safe!

Disclaimer: Some of the text above has been taken from website of Expeditions India.

About Rescue India:
India did not have any international standard trainings until Rescue India was launched in 2015. Rescue India runs a variety of courses and is certified by Rescue 3 International, Sierra Rescue International and International Rafting Federation. All courses are extremely affordable (compared to International prices) and are taught in English and the local language for better understanding. 

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