Questions And Answers About Rafting The Ocoee River
Happy rafting guests make a big splash

Questions And Answers About Rafting The Ocoee River And Requirements

Fast Fred Rafts

Frequently Asked Questions About Rafting

These questions are frequently asked by people considering a rafting trip. Knowing these answers help you plan your family vacation or choose appropriate activities for day trips. If you don't find the answer to your question please send it to me via email or WhatsApp.

What are the requirements to raft?

  • To paddle the Ocoee River participants must be at least 12 years old as required by state law.
  • Participants must read and complete a waiver to raft at your own risk. The waivers of minors must be signed by a parent or guardian.
  • Participants must wear shoes or sandals that strap on. Flip-flops are not acceptable.
  • The use of alcohol or drugs before or during rafting is strictly prohibited.
  • Tanning oils are strongly discouraged for your safety to prevent falling out of the raft. Sunscreen lotions are recommended but please refrain from applying to the backs of your legs to prevent slipping out of the raft.
  • A shirt be worn as a sanitary measure by all participants. Tank tops and bathing suit tops are discouraged.
  • Shorts should be worn over bikini bottoms for protection from raft rash. Your butt and feet primarily attach you to the raft. So it is wise to protect both from abrasions.

What is inherent risk? Why does the waiver mention inherent risks?

Inherent risks are those beyond the control of your outfitter. While controls can reduce the inherent risks not all are within the control of whitewater professionals. Weather, water, rocks, obsticals, participant behavior... read more

Will I be the only nervous rafter?

More than a few folks come to the river nervous. You can help reduce your anxiety by requesting an experienced guide. Most nervous rafter quickly relax in my raft after getting some instruction and run the first couple of rapids. Let your guide know if you are nervous. We want you to have fun and be comfortable.

How should I prepare to go whitewater rafting?

For the best rafting experience get a good nights rest the night before you rafting adventure. Avoid excessive drinking of alcohol as you do not want to be hung over. Be certain to enjoy a large breakfast and hydrate well before arriving to the outpost. You are going to burn a lot of calories paddling so eat well! Be sure to dress for the occasion. Avoid cotton unless you are really worried about heat exhaustion. Cotton will make you cold! Watch my video with tips for what to wear. Don't bring anything of value on the river. Leave your phone and camera in the car not in the river. The lone exception is do bring your GoPro as we have helmets to attach them. Apply sunscreen or sunblock lotion to your face and arms but use care to only apply to the top of your thighs. Your legs will help keep you in the raft so don't make them slick! Bring a great positive attitude ready to have fun and paddle hard!

What level of fitness is required to go whitewater rafting?

You should be able to walk up a few flights of stairs without becoming winded at a minimum. Rafting the class III Ocoee Middle requires about 45 to 60 minutes of physical exertion but with several breaks between rapids. Rafting the Full River involves and additional 45 to 60 minutes of more intense physical exertion navigating class IV rapids. The Olympic section requires the longest burst of intense physical activity as you navigate a quarter miles of intense class IV whitewater action.

Are there health and weight restrictions?

For the most part outfitters on most rivers below class V will accept all comers provided they can fit a 56” personal flotation device. Be aware you are signing a waiver and accepting all responsibility to your decision and actions. Make the decision that is best for your situation. Most commercial rafting deaths I have observed over the years were the result of cardiac issues. While all guides are trained to perform CPR and ranger carry automatic defibrillators (AEDs) not all deaths can be prevented. Rafting is physically intensive and swimming in whitewater is more demanding than paddling. Additionally it can be very scary for the uninitiated to swim class III or class IV whitewater.

Can the weight of participants impact the raft's performance and handling?

Yes, both weight and fitness can create issues controlling a raft and navigating rapids. It is important to let your guide load the raft for best performance and handling. Generally speaking the guide will place the two heaviest guests in the middle of the raft. This is important so the raft will pivot predictably. When just one guest is extremely heavy it often causes issues. The raft will not pivot in the center when turning and may also be more prone to flipping or pinning.

Are there any language requirements?

On the Ocoee River most if not all outposts will allow anyone age 12 and above to go rafting. There are some guides that speak at least some Spanish. I spend my off seasons wandering Latin America. As a result my outpost will often pair Latino crews with me when I have availability.

Can I go whitewater rafting if I am not a strong swimmer?

If you can at least swim you should be okay on easier rivers. However do not attempt river rated class V. Class IV river should be approached with caution if you are not a strong swimmer. Always be truthful with you outfitter and guide if you have any difficulty swimming. If you may panic in water that is a red flag.

Can I go rafting if I cannot swim?

Most outfitters will allow you raft even if you cannot swim. If you may panic in water that is a red flag. This is especially true on the Ocoee River. However many companies operating on class V rivers require guests to pass swimming tests.

Should I go whitewater rafting if I cannot swim?

Personal flotation devices are provided to all guests that come rafting. However if might be wise to stick to class III and below if you cannot swim. Class IV is inherently dangerous and especially so for those who cannot swim to avoid obstacles and hazards. If you cannot swim and choose to raft anyway please be certain to tell your guide and the outfitter.

I have never been whitewater rafting before; is that okay?

Yes, you have to start somewhere. It would be best to start on the lower end of difficulty of the river rating scale. The class III Middle Ocoee River Section is a great place to start. More ambitious aspiring rafters that are reasonably fit and decent swimmers may wish to take on the Full River Section.

Who should not do rafting?

Overexertion can be a cause of death while rafting for people whoes fitness levels are low. Many do not conside the risk of overexcertion to those of low fitness levels and especially those with other underlying health issues. Many deaths that occur during whitewater rafting are heart attacks suffered by people with low fitness levels.

How long will I be on the water during my rafting trip?

If you come rafting with me at Ocoee Adventure Center on the Middle Ocoee you will likely spend 1.5 to 2 hours on the water. And if you raft with me on the Full River trip taking on the class IV of the Upper Ocoee and the class III of the Middle Ocoee you will likely spend at least 4 hours on the water.

How do I stay warm while whitewater rafting? What should I wear while whitewater rafting?

First what you wear or avoid wearing is very important to comfort on the water. Avoid cotton especially if you are concerned about being cold. Synthetics are a much better choice than cotton. Wetsuits and splash gear might be required during the shoulder season in April or October. But the Ocoee River is quite warm due to impoundments and lakes warming the water upstream. During the peak season the water is comfortable.

Learn more about wearing the right gear to stay warm on the river in my video about What To Wear Rafting? And What To Avoid Wearing While Ocoee River Rafting?

What if it rains?

No worries you are going to get wet rafting anyway! Related concerns like thunderstorms come up but are actually pretty rare along the Ocoee River especially compared to places like Florida. In the event of brief electrical storms outpost may try to wait them out.

When does the whitewater rafting season begin and end?

My whitewater season closely follows the peak of the North American rafting season from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. This is the best time to come rafting in my opinion. It is also the best time to come raft the Middle Ocoee on weekdays and the Middle will run on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays with the best opportunities for river play and surfing. Another best kept secret is Memorial Day and Labor Day are slow on the river allowing for the best bang for your buck and the most river play and surfing!

What is the best month to go rafting?

The best time to raft is after the start of school in August until Labor Day in early September. Labor Day Monday is also a great time to raft and avoid crowds. This is the slow time in the industry but still in prime weather. Enjoy fewer crowds on weekends and especially weekdays.

Who typically answers the phone at rafting companies? (maybe under guides?)

Typically the people that answer the phones at most outposts are not guides and often not rafting or whitewater enthusiasts. They are often retail sales representatives. Their goal is to make a sale and most often they read from a canned script the outpost provided. Take answers and descriptions with a grain of salt. I am a seasoned river guide and whitewater enthusiast and my goal is to help you make informed decisions in your best interest. While my livelihood depends upon folks requesting and coming rafting with me, I would prefer well informed guests with reasonable expectations for what they are getting into rafting.

Are there bathrooms at the lunch site?

Yes, there are bathroom facilities available near our lunch site on Full River trips. There are also bathrooms available at the put-ins and the take-out.

What is fun about rafting?

Rafting class III whitewater is much like a splashy fun roller coaster except you are actively participating and not take a passive ride. Rafting class IV is even more exciting with bigger drops and some must make moves along the way.

How cold is the water?

During the peak of the season from Memorial Day through Labor Day the Ocoee River is almost warm but still refreshing.

How hard is rafting?

Rafting does require moderate fitness. As the difficulty rating of a river rises so does the level of require physical exertion and participation. A reasonable level of fitness is required. You should not have mobility issues and additionally at minimum be able to walk a few flights of stairs without getting winded or needing to rest.

What are the age limits for whitewater rafting?

Participants must be at least 12 years old per Tennessee state law to raft the Ocoee River. There is no upper age limit. However please use good judgment before taking frail elderly family members rafting especially on the class IV section of the Upper Ocoee.

What are the most common injuries in whitewater rafting?

The most common injury is to the face, eye, mouth, other facial parts, nose, and teeth. Followed by the knee, arm/wrist/hand, other parts of the leg, hip, or foot, ankle, torso, shoulder, head and neck. Predominant injury types include lacerations, sprains/strains, fractures, contusions/bruises, dislocations and rarely death. Most injuries occur while in the boat and most often from your own paddle's t-grip or that of another crew members. The overwhelming majority of these injuries can be avoid by carefully listening to your guide, following instructions, and gently reminding other crew members to do the same.

What are the most common mechanisms of injury in whitewater rafting?

The most common mechanism of injury while rafting happens while you are in the raft. That being the paddles striking participants. In particular the t-grip often does the greatest damage. Secondary would be falling out of the raft and striking rocks and getting bruises of abrasions.

How do I avoid getting injured while whitewater rafting?

The best way to avoid getting injured while whitewater rafting id to carefully listen to your guide and follow all instructions promptly. If you have any physical disabilities be sure to make your raft guide aware of any limitations.

How do you raft safely?

Come prepared to raft and participate. Get a good nights rest, eat a healthy and hardy breakfast, and hydrate with plenty of water before arriving. If you are rafting in the afternoon eat a nice lunch. Don't come rafting with a hangover or bad attitude. Be prepared to for physically demanding activity and listen carefully to your guides instructions. It is imperative that you follow your guides commands promptly. This is not a float trip as the Ocoee River is made up of Class III & IV rapids. You and your fellow crew members will actively participate with the guide to maneuver the raft through challenging rapids. If this sounds like to much for you consider trying a class II river instead.

Is alcohol allowed on the river?

The Ocoee River is within the Cherokee National Forest where all alcohol is forbidden. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited and glass bottles, aluminum cans, and Styrofoam are prohibited on the Ocoee Rivers and enforced by the Tennessee State Park Rangers. Private boaters are often cited for infractions with costly tickets. Furthermore intoxication and impairment from alcohol or drugs increases risk injury or death to both those that consume them and their crew.

How do you sit in a raft?

You sit on the tube of the raft next to the thwart. You do not sit on the thwart. The thwart's purpose is to maintain the rafts structural integrity to help prevent flips. The tube is the outer perimeter of the raft that the raft's floor connects to. While the thwarts run across the raft from one tub to the other. (photo or drawing)

Will the raft flip?

Don't worry if the raft flips it won't cost extra.

Will I fall in while rafting?

While it is possible you may fall out of the raft there are things you and your crew can do to reduce the chances of an out of boat experience.

Is whitewater rafting dangerous?

Yes whitewater can be dangerous but there are things that you can do to help mitigate the inherent risks. Know and understand your limitations such as your fitness level and swimming ability

How safe is rafting for different age groups and various levels of physical fitness?

Tennessee state law requires commercial rafting customers must be at least 12 years old. There is no upper age limit. At a minimum participants should be able to climb a few flights of stairs without becoming winded. As physical diminishes risks increase. Additionally as the ability to swim diminishes risk also increases. Heavier guest face increased risk of injury as they may face additional difficulty in rescue situations including but not limited getting back into the raft. Heavier rafts are more difficult to control and require greater physical effort by both crew and guide.

What do I need to bring?

You need to bring appropriate clothing. Avoid wearing cotton on the river. You also need to bring shoes to wear on the river or sandals the strap on securely such as Chacos or Tevas. Additionally bring an emergency medication you might need such as epipens or rescue inhalers if you might need them. Bring some extra money to buy photos and tip your guide.

How can I bring sunscreen and water of the river?

Hydrate well before your trip with water or sport drinks. Apply sunscreen but avoid tanning oils before your trip. It is often not possible to secure water bottles or sunscreen and they become litter in the river.

Do we get to swim?

Yes. Both the Middle and Upper sections have one designated swim area each. Your guide will make sure your have a chance to swim if desired.

How much should I tip?

Guiding is part of the service industry and guides rely upon tips for compensation. You should tip at least 20% but tipping more for services above and beyond is common.

Fast Fred Ruddock in Ecuador overlooking Otavalo

Got Questions About Ocoee River Rafting Or This Blog Article?

I am Fast Fred Ruddock and I would be happy to give you honest answers to your questions about rafting or the Ocoee River. You may email me directly with your questions for concerns at fastfredruddock@gmail.com and if you would like to come rafting with me be sure to check out Fast Fred Rafts for the latest details.


I began rafting when I was young during the 1970 with my family. We had several of our own rafts between my parents, grand parents, aunts, and uncles. My family loved playing in the water; I grew up rafting, sailing, and surfing. As I grew older and technology improved I began to get serious about kayaking and creek boating as well. I became an ACA certified kayak instructor and have shared the sport with countless others over the years. Living along the banks of the Green River in North Carolina I have access to some of the best world class rapids to hone my skills.

During my long off-season from rafting I primarily travel solo through Latin America. Ecuador is likely my favorite country to visit but I also enjoy Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. Working as a river guide in the southeast during summers in North America I don't earn a lot of money and live close to the federal poverty level. In spite of this I live a rich life on a frugal budget. If you would like to learn more about traveling in Latin America or maybe some frugal travel tips visit Fast Fred Travels.



Curious about how I can travel so light or what I use on the river? Want to know more about the gear I carry abroad on my extend trips in Latin America or while rafting and kayaking? Here's your chance to dig into my Amazon shop for an inside look. If you make purchases via this shop I will get a very small commission but it will not increase your price what so ever.