Fly Fishing Raft Safety and Tips

by | Apr 16, 2018 | Fly Fishing

Fly Raft Safety Guidelines

Raft Safety is always a concern when you are on the water. Accidents occur every year and they are not limited to beginners. It only takes one wrong move to find yourself in trouble.

We have built a short list of guidelines for handling a quality raft for fly fishing, to increase your chances of having a safe and successful trip. No fisherman wants to go flying overboard and lose half their gear so pay attention and be careful out there.

Safety Equipment

Life Jackets and Flotation Devices

It is wise to always wear a life jacket or some kind of flotation device when rafting. This is especially true for anglers. It is common to see whitewater paddle boats head downriver with life jackets and helmets while fisherman float the same stretch in waders only.

It doesn’t hurt to wear a life jacket and there has been more than one occasion where it would have saved a life. Even a pull string inflatable is going to be better than nothing.

fly fishing cat rapids

Running Rapids on a Solo Mission.


Some of us should wear a helmet all day everyday but it really is something to think about on the water. If you are tackling some big rapids, throw on a helmet for good measure. It is not common on fishing trips, but there are scenarios that call for head protection.

Throw Bags

Every raft should have a throw bag ready to go. Keep one near the rowers seat, hooked on the frame. This allows you to capture lost passengers if necessary. This is a raft safety must have.

First Aid Kits

Carrying a first aid kit is a no-brainer but many boats leave it at home. If you are on the water enough, you will use the first aid kit to patch wounds, stop bleeding and tape yourself together on your way to the take-out.

Safety Tips


If you are planning a new float, especially in unfamiliar territory, do your research. Ask the local experts about hazards and take advantage of the plethora of videos and internet articles to prepare. If you have an idea of what is coming, you will be better prepped to deal with it.

Watch for Hazards

Hazards are a major cause of wrecks and rafting related deaths. The slowest of currents can become death traps if a strainer is laid across the river.

Always be looking ahead for strainers (trees and obstacles perpendicular to the current) and prepare to back row away from the obstacle.

When in Doubt – Scout

If you approach a rapid that looks tough and you are having a hard time picking a line, pull over and scout. It never hurts to develop a plan before navigating the rapid.

If there is not a safe place to pull over, get your head on straight and go for it because you have no other option.

Use Common Sense

Fisherman tend to be pretty good about avoiding dangerous flows because the fishing is not productive. If you are bored during runoff and are thinking about jumping in, think twice about the decision.

If you are an experienced whitewater rafter and understand the risks, have fun. If you had one too many beers and are operating on false courage, go fish a lake instead.

Rafting Tips for Fly Fisherman

Use our rafting tips to get started and make a safe journey down the river. Rafting is an excellent way for anglers to reach remote and lightly pressured waters. Take your time and gain experience before tackling the really serious stuff. Also, focus on safety at all times to ensure you can continue rafting for a long time.

Safety on the Water

We have a separate section about safety but it goes without saying that you should carry a life jacket for each person on your boat. Always keep a first aid kit handy and know how to practice first aid and CPR.

Dress Appropriately

Rafting without getting wet is possible but you should always be prepared for moisture and cold conditions. In the heat of the summer, it is typically ok to wear flip flops and shorts but the spring, fall and winter require layers, waders or dry suits, gloves and warm hats.

It is also a good idea to carry hand warmers for emergency use. Once you launch, it can be a while before you reach a warm place. Always prepare for the coldest conditions that may occur. This is one of the most important rafting tips.

Center the Weight

Center the weight of your gear and passengers to maximize control of your raft. Place one fisherman up front and one in the back. Encourage them to use the seats as it maximizes your ability to control the boat and hold a productive line.

Don’t Fear the Shallow Waters

One of the major reasons for choosing a raft over a drift boat is the ability to bounce through shallow water. Don’t be afraid to slide over shallow gravel bars if it puts your fisherman in a good position and slows you down.

Punch Through Waves

If you are new to rafting, you will quickly learn that big waves are not designed for a passive approach. When you hit a wave train, forward row and punch through the waves. Passive rowing allows the wave to push you around and potentially flip the raft.

Always Be Aware

Always be on the lookout for trouble while you are rowing. Never sit back and take a nap while floating down a river. It may be the slowest section in the world but a single strainer can take you under. If you want to take a nap, pull over or drop anchor in a safe position.

Hold Your Lines

Once you are comfortable rowing in a safe manner, it is time to learn about rowing with anglers in the boat. Rowing fisherman requires exceptional control and the ability to read water while navigating obstacles.

Choose a line that allows the anglers to make a presentation and hold that line for as long as possible. You must control the speed to help their presentation and maintain distance from the bank by skulling and making minor adjustments as you float.

Minor adjustments are the key to effectively rowing anglers as major movements throw off the presentation and make it difficult to fish.