By my estimation, I have trained over 600 river rafting guides in my lifetime. A majority of them under the auspices of my rafting company, Orion Expeditions, Inc., informally known these days for search engine purposes as Orion River Rafting.
I have a very clear idea of the skills someone needs to become a successful river rafting guide. After all, I provide the training in order to meet my company's needs for a river staff every season. My employees must be an extension of me. I need to feel comfortable giving them the responsibility to escort the general public down a variety of white water rivers.
When the state of Washington opted to look into white water rafting operators in the mid-90s - in response to tragic deaths during a rafting season - I chose to get involved along with a number of other prominent outfitters to head the legislature off at the pass from enacting onerous and unnecessary rules and regulations. It was clear, due to the tragedy, they were in the mood to go overboard, or choose the path of least resistance and merely use an example state's existing regulations, like Idaho, as a template.
In my opinion, this was 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'. Washington's boating community, especially the outfitters, were already exceptionally attuned to safety. Outfitters provided all the essential white water accoutrements to their guests - wetsuits, wetsuit boots, helmets where called for. Guides carried extra clothing. Boats had rescue lines and throw bags and spare paddles. No one boated alone. The outfitters who catered alcohol in the early days were no longer in business.
In other words, most outfitters were ahead of the game and extremely safety conscious. The colder waters of Washington state really compelled us to do so. So, after weeks of haggling with the state legislature, we earned the right to create our own in-state version of licensing and drew up the law to regulate our livelihoods.
Now, enough time has passed and the industry has matured and there are national voices seeking to streamline river rafting guide training.
I don't have a problem with that. . . except for one thing. I want my guide training to be grandfathered in without my having to get certified by an outside organization. After several decades of training guides, I feel my company has earned that.
But to be on the safe side, since this movement seems to be inexorable, I, along with members of my instructor staff, who also have decades of experience training guides, are creating the American Rafting Association. We will decide the protocol. We will certify guide trainings, instructors and programs. We have the experience and gravitas to do so. Perhaps more so than any other organization attempting to fill the void.
If you have a guide training program you would like for us to certify, drop us a line. We are not looking to profit from this. We are just trying to get out in front of the parade and not be left behind to clean up the elephant dung and have to pay to do so.
If you want to be a member, contact us. Membership is free.
We are looking to build a safer white water community and more knowledgable, safety-conscious guides without numerous monetary and time-consuming hurdles.