Commercial whitewater rafting has been growing in popularity for several decades. People from many backgrounds, of all ages, and physical abilities take part in this exciting outdoor activity. Though fun, whitewater rafting is an outdoor sport and has inherent risks involved. Since guided rafting trips are a team sport and people work together in the raft, many expert rafters will argue that it is much safer than a solo sport such as snow skiing. Professional river outfitters take safety very serious and all of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters members by far exceed the training expectations mandated by the Division of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, even with the best guides, equipment, and training serious injuries and even deaths have occurred while rafting. Statistically, the drive to and from the river are probably more dangerous than the rafting trip itself.
If you watch the news or read the paper you will hear of an occasional death associated with whitewater rafting. Over the last decade there are 6-10 whitewater rafting deaths for each 2.5 million user days on guided rafting trips. That is, there is 1 death for every 250,000 to 400,000 “person visits” of whitewater rafting. The truth is that the majority of the whitewater related deaths are not on commercial raft trips and the majority of the whitewater rafting deaths occurred among individuals with their own rafts also known as private boaters! It deeply saddens the entire river community when an unfortunate incident on a river takes place and one death is too many. When the data for commercial rafting trips is looked at by itself the number of deaths goes down approx. 75%. Statistics also show that over 30% of these rafting related deaths are linked to a preexisting medical condition or heart related issue. Furthermore, about 30% of those deaths come from heart conditions or heart attacks.