Working as a Whitewater Rafting Guide on the Ococee River in Georgia

How to Find Work

Getting a job working on the river is a lot easier than you may think. Almost every company, if not all, have a training program for first year guides. This means you don’t have to have any prior experience to start training to work on the Ocoee. Training for first year guides usually starts in early march when the river opens to the public. Be ready for cold weather and even colder weather. It is usually 40 or so during this time of year around the river.
Training starts as soon as the river opens in March so you will want to start contacting companys at the start of the year. Some companies you can contact year round about employment information. Some of the smaller companies don’t open up until March though. You can continue to contact the different companies during March and April. After that the hiring process starts to end and most places won’t hire an inexperienced guide after that.

What Training is Like

During training you will learn how to safely guide a boat of up to 7 or 8 customers but usually you have 6 in the boat at a time. You will also learn some swift water rescue techniques such as how to unwrap a boat from a rock, how to get out of a hydraulic, how to throw a rope, and many other useful rescue techniques. In order to be a whitewater rafting guide you must have a basic first aid and CPR certification. Most companies offer this at a discounted group rate during training. The cost of the certification is generally around $25.

When you finally hit the water for training you start out in customer spots in the boat with an experienced guide. You will take a few trips down just paddling and the guide will be naming the rapids as you go through them and pointing out the lines you run on the river and where you want to and don’t want to go. After the first few trips you will take turns guiding the raft with the other trainees in the boat. The guide will help you by telling you when and how to turn the boat, when to call paddle commands, and other need to know skills.

You will need to purchase a small amount of gear ahead of time to work on the river. Here is a list of the most basic supplies you will need. Prices are based off the REI online Catalog.

Helmet $40
Class III or higher PFD (personal floatation device) $45-$130
River Knife $35-$55
Sandals $55-$90
3 Locking Carabineers
Guide Paddle
Extra Gear you may want:
Polypro Shirt $36-$50
Splash Jacket $40-$162
Wetsuit for really cold days $50-$85

What the Work is Like

There is no other job like working in the river. It will probably be one of the few jobs you don’t mind waking up at 7:00am for. You meet new people every day and no two trips are alike. You can’t beat having the Ocoee River as your office.

A good river guide is one that is good with people. This quality is a must because you get all kinds of people that go rafting. You get the die hard gung ho, scared middle aged women, preppy girls, silly young boys, and everyone in between. You need to be able to pick up on your customers’ personality easily. Not only so you can relate to them and make the ride more fun but for their safety and your own. You have to make sure they understand the rules and the commands upfront and that you aren’t joking around when it comes to safety.

A normal work day for most companies is about 3 or 4 trips down the river. On average the trip will be about an hour and a half. Before each trip you will help unload the boats off the boat trailer. Then you wait around for the bus full of customers to show up at the put in. Once you have been assigned your group of customers you take a few minutes to introduce your self and get to know them. Once introductions are out of the way it’s down to business. Next you will explain safety procedures and paddle commands with the customers. If you have extra time you normally put your boat in the flat water above the dam and practice paddle strokes and correct the customers in what they may be doing wrong. After that is a breezy trip down the river. At the end of the river you load up boats on the trailer and head back up to the top of the river and do it again.

Pay is usually based on experience. As a first year guide don’t expect much more than $25 a trip plus tips. Then you will gain a few dollars with each year of experience under your belt. Tips range from customer to customer. You can get anything from $5 to $150. It all depends on your group, the time of year, and how good of a job you do.

Where to Work

1.Ocoee Rafting-
2.Outdoor Adventures Rafting-
3.Quest Expeditions-
4.Ocoee Inn-
5.Nantahala Outdoor Center-
6.Ocoee Adventure Center-
7.Wild Water LTD-
8.Rafting in The Smokies-
9.Rolling Thunder-
10.Ocoee Outdoors-
11.Outland Expeditions-
13.Ace Ocoee Funyaks-
14.Southeastern Expeditions-
15.Eagle Adventures-
16.Whitewater Express
17.Big Frog

Questions to Ask Employers

– Howmany trips will I get?
– Do you provide housing or camps?
– Is the housing free?
– What are the tips like?
– Can I take fun runs?
– Can I bring family and friends?
– What type of benefits do you offer?

The Lifestyle

Raft guides are like a different breed of people. Almost like a small community within a larger one. Almost every guide knows every other guide on the river. You usually live together with the people you work with, hang out with them, and party with them. There is no shortage of parties during the rafting season. The different rafting companies have parties all through the season. These parties usually involve lots of beer and some wild theme like a toga party or pimps and hoes. Don’t worry about not getting invited or not hearing about them. If there is a party everyone on the river will know and everyone is invited.

Since the big business days on the river are Saturday and Sunday a guide’s weekend starts on Monday. Monday night is guide night at the local bar and restraint in town called the Iron Horse Grill. Filled with lovely local waitresses and $1.00 beer it’s a great time for all. The raft guides come here and listen to live music, drink beer, and trade rafting stories until the wee hours of the night or until the police come and tell them they are being too loud.

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