Arguably the finest one-day white water rafting trip on the planet, on one of Africa’s iconic rivers. Rafting the Zambezi River in the Batoka Gorge offers splendid isolation, breathtaking scenery, the opportunity to forget the daily grind, be physically active and reconnect with nature at an almost atavistic level.

Starting at the headwaters of the “Middle Batoka Gorge”, directly below “The Victoria Falls”. Rafting the Zambezi river has been an outdoor adventure renowned “must do”, since the first descent in 1981.

But is it safe? (Because it is exceptionally good fun).

The origins of the name “Zambezi” are contentious, the modern use of the word by the “Kaonde” people of North Western Zambia is “Great River”. While the English derivative of the name itself, is thought to have come from the same general area, from the “Lunda” people’s word “Kasambambezi”. Ominously translated as “those that know how to swim”.

Rafting the Zambezi is an extreme outdoor adventure expedition. Rafting any river carries a level of inherent risk that must be acknowledged.

In order to classify the level of river difficulty, the world wide rafting fraternity use a basic numbered system from Class-I to Class-V. With Class-V being the highest level of commercially available rafting. While definitely not infallible and subject to serious downright heated debate. The system does allow a base level of measure, with regard to difficulty and what to expect.

The class of a rapid has no bearing on the amount of “fun” you can have on it, and the Zambezi is full off punchy Class-III’s that will have you yelling for more.

RAFTING CLASSIFICATION TABLE

CLASSCharacterised by:
IMoving water, with small waves and riffles, few obstacles and small areas to avoid, straightforward to see and easy to navigate with limited experience.
IIEasy, read and run rapids, with wide clear channels, easily avoidable obstructions with the occasional need to navigate around obstacles/features.
IIIFast moving water, often necessary to take on large waves/features and stay on lines. Strong eddy lines and powerful currents. Multiple obstructions.
IVPowerful fast moving rapids that require concentration and a high level of skill to navigate, necessary to make certain complex lines. High pressure moves to avoid areas and features. Necessary on occasion to ‘scout’ these rapids.
VLong, difficult and violent rapids, demanding routes, high pressure navigation required, may contain unavoidable features which have to be run. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is risk to life or limb. The upper limit of commercial rafting.

The Zambezi River is classified as a Grade-V river, most notably this is on the very top end of commercially available rafting.

Crew Dropping into “The Crease” an unavoidable feature on the infamous Rapid # 7- “Gullivers Travels” Class-V.

It is very important to acknowledge and respect the risk that accompanies the decision to sign up to one of our rafting trips. Guests are ultimately responsible for their own safety decisions and there are expectations of guests on this Class-V river.

Here is what you need to consider when making your decision:

  1. The Middle Zambezi rafting section is located within the steep sided “Batoka Gorge”. Guests need to be able to negotiate the steep hikes to access and exit the gorge. After a long day on the water these hikes can be demanding. The ability to do these hikes is an indication of the fitness levels necessary to enjoy this incredible experience. The Zambezi River undergoes substantial seasonal water-level variation and as such we are constantly changing the entrance and exit paths to raft different sections. Some paths are more demanding than others, but in general these hikes take the average guest 15-25 minutes.

    The Batoka Gorge access path at Rapid # 10.

    Path out at Rapid #21 “Adam’s Camp”.

  2. You will need to be able to sit and remain balanced while in the raft and be able to hold on with one hand. Follow instructions in stressful situations and communicate effectively with other guests and our guide team.

    Raft Team lining up to the “Crease” at Rapid # 7.

  3. You will need to be able to walk around some of the bigger rapids on difficult terrain and to get into and out of the raft in slippery conditions and on broken ground. You would need to do this on multiple occasions.

    Guests walking around Rapid # 9

    Guests helping to move a raft, note the broken ground.

  4. You will need to be able and willing to actively participate in your own rescue. Be able to move your body and hold your breath in fast moving water, if you end up in the water you need to be able to regulate your breathing and keep your cool. Guests will also need to be able to help other guests back onto the raft. Rafting this river is an excellent team activity and everyone joins in.

    Raft after a flip

River trips by their very nature are risky and here often lies part of the allure of the adventure. If you are comfortable with the above read on about how we moderate this risk with thirty years of experience on this incredible section of river.

Our Guides

River Guides, Zambezi River, Africa IRF

Our Fun loving crew of white water gurus.

All of our team are International Rafting Federation accredited and hold Class-V rafting licenses. We are constantly training scenarios and de-briefing. No day on the Zambezi is ever the same and “every day is a school day”. We never stop adapting and learning. Guest safety is our number one priority.

All of our team hold Advanced First Aid Certificates and we have yearly refresher courses. We are proud that four of our team successfully qualified the Basic Life Support (BLS) Certification from the American Heart Association.

On all of our trips we take an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Our team are all in-house trained and from our community, we are a strong family; and most of our guides have been with us for over 15 years. With vast amounts of logged river hours on this stretch of the river. Our guide team are exceptionally customer focused.

If you feel unsure or nervous, they understand and many a morning’s “butterflies”, have turned to exhilaration after the first rapid. You got this.

Rapid # &, the shoots, guide training.

IRF Guide Training in action.

The International Rafting Federation is the world wide body which oversees the certification and training of professional raft guides. We pioneered this qualification on the Zambezi with Adventure Logic and Gravity Adventures and host the regional certification training and examination courses. So our team are constantly staying current with developments and refresher courses.

River Procedures

Guest expectations of a rafting trip on the  Zambezi river differ widely and we go out of our way to manage these and ensure everyone has a blast.Not everyone wants to hit the meat of every rapid or ‘go hard’. It is possible to run different lines in some of the rapids and some of these lines can be more challenging than others.

Crew dropping into Rapid #8 “Star Trek” this is an optional drop and is easily navigated around the right.

Crew running Rapid # 7 “Gulliver’s Travels” about to drop into the crease.

We manage our guest crews to ensure you are generally with like minded people, and we require a 100% unanimous crew decision, before tackling the hard lines. Again our guides are adept at reading their teams and their abilities. You will never feel “press ganged” into running something you are apprehensive of and the guides decision is final.

We run unparalleled guest to guide ratios on this section of the river and we do not overload our rafts. One of the leading causes of injury are your fellow rafting buddies careening into you.

All of our trips are accompanied by Safety Kayakers, these are additional guides in supporting kayaks. Kayaks can quickly access areas and come to a guests aid, they run the rapids first and are staggered in between the rafts.

Kayaker support is an integral part of the way we run the river safely.

Equipment

We run the Zambezi River in self bailing 16ft inflatable rafts. The rafts are configured into three main set-ups, a paddle boat, a stern mount or a safety boat. Our Equipment is well maintained and we have dedicated team who ensure all our rafts are in top condition. The conditions in the Batoka Gorge mean this is a constant and unrelenting task.

Stern Mount

Raft Crew in Rapid # 5

Our Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) are custom made for the Zambezi River, they consist of double the normal flotation 160 kj’s than other jackets for smaller rivers. This is primarily to deal with the high volume whirlpools and boils we have on our river.

Warm Water

On other rivers of a similar scale, cold water immersion is a serious consideration for would be rafters. The ice-cold water adds a significant degree of difficulty. Pertaining to what equipment you have to use and how you recover guests that fall out of the raft. Situations in cold water escalate rapidly.

Fortunately the Zambezi hasn’t got this problem. While we may give you a simple rash vest to wear in June/July/August this is more for the wind chill than the water temperature. The coldest range we generally have is between 15-18° Celsius.

Always time for a dip in the mighty Zambezi.

Pool Drop

The Zambezi River section on which we raft is known as a “pool drop” river. What this means is that below the big, awe inspiring, crashing rapids the Zambezi River is renowned for. There are, on the whole, calmer pools.

In the event of a flip or a guest going for a swim we have time to “pick-up all the pieces” before moving down into the next rapid. On other rivers of a similar scale a flip can be a calamity as the rapids feed into each other. Making recovery difficult.

safpar zambezi river rafting multi-day

The Rapids empty out into relatively quiet pools.

Depth and Volume

One of the biggest dangers in rafting is foot entrapment. While this is definitely possible on the Zambezi River and we cover the do’s and don’t’s in our extensive safety briefing. The sheer depth and strength of the current make this unlikely, swimmers in the water tend to stay in the centre of the river where the flow is maximised.

With all the above being said, we still absolutely give this Grade-V river the respect she deserves. Rafting the Zambezi River is an extreme adventure and should not be taken lightly.

While it would be impossible to eradicate all risk, we manage the risk with the thirty years of experience on this incredible river. Technology and experience have all developed rapidly, extreme sport equipment, technique and “know how” is understandably at a significantly higher level than yesteryear.

We look forward to seeing you all out there!

Sean Edington

Author Sean Edington

More posts by Sean Edington

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