Know Before You Go(CFS, Swimming Techniques and Gear)

Know Before You Go(CFS, Swimming Techniques and Gear)


CFS or Cubic Feet per Second is a measurement used in the whitewater community. This measurement is the volume and speed of the water flowing in a river at any given point. CFS is calculated by multiplying the river’s width, depth, and speed of the water. High CFS means the water is flowing fast and low CFS means the water is moving more slowly.

Each river and the sections within the river have different CFS that they run best at. If you are planning to raft Pine Creek through the Numbers on the Arkansas River, you want the CFS to be between 1200cfs to 2000cfs. The Browns Canyon section of the Arkansas is best ran when the CFS are between 300cfs and 5,000cfs. The higher the CFS on this section, the more challenging it gets. These sections are on the same river but differ substantially when it comes to ideal CFS.  A great resource that you should always check before going rafting is American Whitewater.

On American Whitewater’s site, you can find all the information about the river you plan to raft. You can find put-ins, take-outs, and flow updates like the gauge, flow range, and flow rate!A group of rafters high fiving paddles while on the Colorado River in the summer

Swimming Techniques

If you are going whitewater rafting, you should be prepared to swim in the river. Typically, your crew can pull you back into your boat pretty quickly but in case you float away from them, you should know how to swim safely in the river.

The first step if you fall into the water is to get onto your back and arch it. Arching your back will protect your tailbone if the water is shallow. Next, get your feet pointed downstream and lift them as high as you can while keeping your back arched. Pointing your feet downstream will minimize the risk of hitting your head on rocks and other river obstacles. Keeping your feet up will help you avoid foot entrapment.  Foot entrapment is when the swimmer’s foot gets stuck in rocks or other debris and the force of the river pushes their head underwater and generally keeps it there. Use your arms in a backstroke to move yourself to one side of the river.

Once the boat is close enough, reach for it with your hand or the handle of your paddle. It is extremely dangerous to be swimming downstream of a raft so be prepared to swim hard to get out of the way. We recommend taking a rescue course before you go out on the river alone. This ensures that if anyone does swim, they can be rescued correctly and quickly. There is an ACA Swiftwater Rescue Clinic in Buena Vista this June 20th-21st. 

a person in a dry suit swimming with their feet up in whitewater

Image Courtesy of Triad River Tours


Having the correct gear when going whitewater can save your life if any accidents happen. If you do not have the appropriate gear for your trip, we offer everything you will need!

PFD- A personal floatation device a.k.a. life jacket, is something you should absolutely have when rafting. It increases your margin of safety significantly if you do end up in the water.

Helmet- Within rivers you will find rocks and debris that can knock you out if you hit your head. It also protects you from rogue paddles and other potential dangers.

Raft- There are different types of rafts you can whitewater raft in. Just make sure you check the CFS before you go and that your boat can handle the flow of the river.

Waterproof Shoes- You can’t help getting wet while rafting and your feet are no exception. Ideal shoes are comfortable and dry quickly.

Sunscreen- If you are rafting, you will be in the sun for a long period of time. The sun reflects off the water so make sure to get your face covered well!

Dry Bag- Like I said earlier, water will be getting in the raft. A dry bag will keep whatever is in it dry…go figure! This is a great place to keep valuables and a change of clothes.

A raft coming down the Colorado River with a steep mountain wall behind them

Now that you know all of this, you are ready to go whitewater rafting! Just remember that water is a powerful force and should be taken seriously. Colorado River Rentals has everything you will need to have fun and be safe on the river. Not quite ready to take on the river alone? We offer guided rafting trips too!