Training, and Working as a White Water Raft Guide
As soon as the conversation turns to paddlesports, or someone mentions the BCU, thoughts naturally turn to canoes and kayaks, but white water rafting is hugely popular as anyone who has visited the National White Water Centre near Lake Bala, in Wales, will tell you. A favourite for groups on team building days, or even lads on stag dos; rafting is a real adrenaline-pumping adventure sport. While rafts may look like oversized dinghies you buy at the seaside, they take plenty of skill to navigate down a stretch of grade 3 or 4 white water, and need a trained BCU raft guide to ensure the boat's passengers can enjoy the experience safely.
Best UK rivers for rafting
Tricky question. It is a lot like asking someone to choose their favourite child. We have some great grade 3 and above stretches of water here in the UK: Perfect to send a raft plunging into stoppers, or flying through some fast rapids. Our favourites include the River Tryweryn, location of the National White Water Centre, Wales and the River Orchy, running down of the Grampians. There are also some good artificial runs, places like Nene and of course the Lee Valley centre, inherited from the 2014 London Olympics.
Raft Guide Qualification Courses
The Level 1 Raft Guide course is usually from 4 to 6 days in duration. While you can travel anywhere to take the course, you need to pass the assessment on the stretch of river upon which you are planning to guide. The training course covers maintenance of the raft, equipment, client briefings, raft handling skills, river knowledge, and rescue equipment and procedures. You have to be 18 years old, have to have a valid first aid certificate, and between the training and the assessment, you have to complete at least ten training trips. The cost of the course should be around the £500 mark, but when you factor in the cost of equipment, and extra training, you are unlikely to get much change out of a grand, and that is just to get to level 1. However, before you go in search of something cheaper, scroll down to see how much you can expect to get paid! You can find out more about other BCU instructor courses in our guide to skills and training courses.
International Rafting Federation
The IRF are a global, not-for-profit federation, established to promote the sport of rafting, in their own words, "striving to find solutions which satisfy the demands of rafting". While the BCU preside over raft guide qualifications for the UK, it is perfectly possible to take the IRF version of the instructor course and still work in the UK, and abroad, because the national bodies for rafting in the UK work closely with the IRF. The guiding scheme is very similar to the BCU version with level 1 being trainee, level 2 being licensed guide, and level 3 trip leader. The course should be a similar duration and cost too. Which is the best version to take? If you are working in this country then it shouldn't really matter whether you have the national or international qualification. If you plan to guide around the world, then it shouldn't matter either, but you may find the international version more recognisable.
Raft Guide Jobs and Employment
Employment can be stable, or piecemeal, depending upon your level of qualification and the quality of the river upon which you guide. If you are only qualified to Level 1 raft guide, then you are stuck on the river, or rivers upon which you have taken the assessment. This is the big incentive to push on and get the Level 2 qualification because you are then able to teach on any river; allowing you to change location if you need to.
Is the job competitive?
We'd love to be able to answer this one for you, but unfortunately there appears to be very little information in the system. We spoke to the Canoe England, who were unable to tell us how many of their 150 approved centres were offering white water rafting.
Environmental factors affecting employment
If you are guiding on a stretch of river that is prone to flooding, then you will get periods where the river becomes too dangerous. Most years this may only be a problem for a week or two, but this last autumn and winter have not been ‘most years', and many rivers have experienced flow rates that make white water rafting difficult.
The best locations for grade 3 water and above tend to be the middle to upper courses of rivers. Unfortunately this is also the section of a river more prone to the lack of rainfall that we usually experience during the summer. Where rainfall is insufficient to maintain the water level, the white water raft is more likely to cause damage to the river and so most rafts will be out of action.
In theory, the ideal place to raft guide, and indeed where a lot of white water rafting centres locate, would be on a damn controlled river, or even better, a purpose built section of artificial water, such as the Lee Valley Olympic Centre in Hertfordshire. The water is usually kept relatively constant, making it slightly easier to have people book trips in advance and know there is a fair chance the water will be in good condition. However, you cannot beat a natural river when the conditions are favourable.
Type of work available to raft guides
The most common job available will see you running taster sessions where you take short runs of perhaps a few hundred meters, longer charter sessions for small groups on day trips, or even day or half day trips of several kilometres. If you are level 3 raft guide qualified, then you are able to take people on multi day trips.
Typical raft guide wage: £18k (Level 1) or £22 (Level 2+).
The amount you can earn as a raft guide will vary depending upon whether you are at a centre that can offer you full time work, or whether you are more part time; as bookings and river conditions allow. Obviously, as you step up beyond the first level, you have access to more rivers and therefore more opportunities to earn money from rafting trips. And you will definitely make more money from overseas trips with multiple boats than short thrill rides at an activity centre.