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Staying Safe

Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Staying Safe

Choosing a river guide

Unless you're married to Meryl Streep's character in The River Wild, your summer whitewater trip is probably going to be with a guide. Here are some questions to help determine whether the outfitter on the other end of the telephone is the one for you. Don't offer up answers to the following questions; instead, make the outfitting company convince you of its competence.

What are your guides' average age and average length of experience? If the answer is that they're college-age, with two to three years of experience, weigh this against how old your kids are and how tough the water is. While younger guides can be exuberant and perform feats of mind-melding with your teenagers, younger children or challenging water will probably make you want someone who's a bit more wizened (a thirtysomething) and field-tested (12-15 years of experience).

What medical training do your guides have? Basic first aid is a must; advanced first aid is preferable. Now outdoor professionals can take 40-plus-hour courses in specialized wilderness first aid, which empowers guides even more to handle medical emergencies. If guides on staff are EMTs (emergency medical technicians), all the better for you. And look for guides who are trained in river rescue.

What is the ratio of guests to guides? For families with young kids (requiring more care and attention), four- or five-to-one is the answer you're looking for.

How many clients do you put in a raft? Four is best, six is fine, and eight is the absolute limit for multiday trips.

Are your Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Coast Guard-approved? Even the most meatheaded outfit has to provide PFDs and ones that are Coast Guard approved are the industry standard. What you need to determine is whether your outfitter's PFDs will adequately protect your children. If they assure you that your child will be safe in a small adult PFD, hang up the phone. You want your child in a Youth Type 1 or 5 jacket--specifically designed for your child's body weight.

Ask for references. A good family outfitter will happily provide you with this information. Specify that you want to interview former clients who took kids the same age as yours on the trip.

Copyright 1996, Outside Magazine

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