There have been a few stories in the past week or two alerting the nation of a couple of deaths during whitewater rafting trips. Five deaths already on the Arkansas River in Colorado, one recent death on a California river trip, and a few others around the country.
The question is, is this something to be concerned about? Well, it depends on how you look at the situation. Typically, when you hear of deaths on the river, it usually involves private boaters who take their own little tubes down a raging river and end up drowning. Commercial outfitters typically do not see many deaths. One news source from Colorado gave an historic breakdown for their commercial river rafting deaths for the past 5 years:
2000- 3 deaths
2001- 2 deaths
2002- none recorded
2003- none recorded
2004- none recorded
2005- 1 death
2006- 1 death
Nation-wide, the industry as a whole usually sees about 20-25 deaths a year on average, with some year hitting the 50 mark (2006). Overall, the numbers may be up this year, but when dealing with an extreme sport, it is always unpredictable. Mother nature is the deciding factor in these instances, and rivers are a tough force to reckon with.
In all though, it still remains a very safe, as long as you go with professional outfitters. Statistically, speaking less than half of all whitewater rafting deaths occur with a professional outfitter. They know the rivers, which spots to avoid, and are trained in rescue techniques to get you out of danger. Considering the number of rafters who go down rivers in any particular season (over 10 million annually), the fatality rate is extremely low (zero is always nice).
Moral of the story- dont be afraid to go rafting. Its still one of the greatest outdoor activities of all time!