One
of the things I really like about paddling is the sense of teamwork
and camaraderie we often enjoy on the river. A good group of
paddlers communicates effectively on and off the water and travels
together safely. When it comes to sharing eddies and currents with
rafts, however, things can get a little tense.

We’ve
all heard hard boaters and rafters whining about each other like so
many junior high students pitting the boarders against the hicks. I
agree that it’s tough to surf and play the river on those summer
weekends when the continuous wall of rubber seems never to end. Then
again, it’s not easy to fit a three week Grand Canyon trip into a set
of storage floats either.

A
few simple rules of momentum and communication can help to ensure
that your close encounters with rafts are friendly.

Oar
Boats vs. Paddle Boats:

Rafts
navigate and change momentum in part depending on whether they’re
powered by a group of paddlers or an oarswoman/man. Paddle boats
generally pick up downstream momentum much faster than oar boats.
Furthermore, inexperienced paddle captains tend to overuse the urgent
“Paddle forward HARD!” command. For obvious reasons, avoid
peeling out of that last scouting eddy just downstream of a paddle
boat.

Conversely,
oar boats often navigate rapids with upstream pulls and ferries.
Particularly in technical rapids, they may appear to be slowing down
in their efforts to control momentum. Hard boats tend to overtake
oar boats unless they back-paddle, eddy out, or better yet, surf.
Often the best place to be is downstream of those slow moving,
oar-wielding barges. It’s certainly easier to see that way, but make
sure you know where camp is!

Communication
and Etiquette:

Raft
groups, particularly commercial trips, strive to stay together on the
water. Be respectful of their safety-oriented need for this and
avoid peeling out between rafts in the same party. Guides should
always he able to tell you how many boats in their party are behind
them.

Since
hard boats are an order of magnitude more maneuverable than rafts,
it’s a good idea for hard boats to grant them the right of way. If
you haven’t yet seen a surfing hard boater get taken out by a 16 foot
raft, your chance will come. Don’t expect rafts to get out of your
way. Grab an eddy because you can. Depending on the crew, the guide
may only have a modicum of control anyway. Besides, they may not
want to miss that wave either, and they won’t he paddling back up for
it.

Finally,
I hope this season brings with it a continuance of respect and
teamwork among all river enthusiasts. Although a kayak is my
personal craft of choice, rafts enable me to share rivers with
family, friends, and the voting public. I value our citizens’
interest in the rivers we love, and for most folks, that involves
pushing rubber.

From
“The Spray”, newsletter of the Colorado White Water
Association.

by Katie Gill

Reprinted in The Eddy Line,
August 1996