Flooooating down the riveeer
May 21, 2008 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm going on a float trip for the first time. What are some things that I should know to make it a fun and SAFE time?

I know nothing about recreational sports in natural bodies of water, especially rivers. It will be on the Meramec River, from Meramec State Park to Meramec Caverns. I have a couple of questions.

1. MOST IMPORTANT. Do I HAVE to get in the water? Can I just stay in my raft the whole time? If I stay in the raft, will I get soaked?

2. If I do get in the water, is it wise to drink alcohol before hand. I was told that there was going to be some alcohol provided. I'm only planning on having a drink or two, I don't know if that is enough to cloud my judgment.

3. Again about getting in the water...I haven't gone swimming since 2002 and I never swam in a river. Which would be better for me, a lifejacket or lifesaver?

4. Is it common for rafts to turn over? The river is supposed to be mostly class I.

5. Are we supposed to paddle the whole time or float the whole time? Both?

6. What if I have to go to the bathroom? Will there be restrooms along the river, or do I just find a bush?

7. Any other tips you have?
posted by sixcolors to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. You may or may not be given a wetsuit. At least your ankles will get wet as you walk to the raft so be prepared for that.
3. You will probably be given a lifejacket and instructions on how to wear it.
4. On Class I, the raft will not turn over.
6. Get in the water and pee in your wetsuit.
posted by matildaben at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2008

Some general advice re: #7:

Don't wear anything you'd be sad to lose or ruin. This includes rings, watches, etc.
Wear croakies (or something) to anchor your sunglasses around your head. It's easy for them to fall off, into the water.
Stay hydrated.
Wear sunblock lip protection
I recommend water shoes of some sort

Even when I was just beginning rafting, I found class 1 to be really boring, since you really do just float and look at the scenery. You might get overheated if you aren't getting wet at all and it's a warm day. It's not particularly dangerous, as long as you don't do anything foolhardy after having too much to drink.
posted by np312 at 5:48 PM on May 21, 2008

1. Going on a rafting trip and expecting not to get wet is pretty silly, but aside from when you get in the raft you won't really *have* to get in the water. If you're going on big zodiac-type rafts, they'll most likely put them in the water first, and then have everyone climb in where the water is only a foot or two deep, which isn't so bad. There is a risk that you'll fall, possibly into the water, at that point, but it won't be life threatening and you won't get swept away by the river or anything. Anyway, you'll most likely get wet one way or another, even if it's not a full-body soaking. I went down the Colorado River when I was a kid, and when we didn't have rapids to deal with, we had water fights.

2. If you're not a good swimmer at all, or easily susceptible to alcohol, you might want to watch it. Personally, I'd still be able to swim with a pretty good buzz going, but it would take me quite a few drinks to get there and I grew up with a pool, so I can't really advise you here.

3. Every time I've gone river rafting, the outfitter provided us with lifejackets. They'll probably allow you more freedom of movement and will reliably hold your face above water. If they're expecting you to paddle, you'll probably get a lifejacket.

4. Rafts will turn over, but class I is nothing. I've gone through a class V rapid and a few IVs without flipping. I've gone through a III with just a lifejacket, just for kicks. Your raft probably won't turn over unless you want it to.

5. Sometimes you float, sometimes you paddle. It depends on river flow and how fast you want to get there. I'm not familiar with your river. One trip I did, the guides rowed with fixed oars the whole time and we didn't paddle anything.

6. This might be icky for you, but if the river is heavily travelled and out in the wilderness or relatively unaccessible, your group will most likely pack out solid material and dispose of it after the trip. Otherwise, every trip that come through leaves waste behind and it gets kind of nasty. For liquid waste, I'd normally just jump in the water, but you seem pretty averse to that. But yeah, you'll probably just find a bush.

7. I think you're generally worrying too much.
posted by LionIndex at 5:48 PM on May 21, 2008

All good advice above. I would just add -- sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Have a great time.
posted by netbros at 5:53 PM on May 21, 2008

things can change relatively quickly on the meramac. but it's a lovely, lovely river to float on. huzzah! i'm envious.

a few thoughts:
-WATERPROOF sunscreen. seriously. there's not much worse than getting such a horrible sunburn on the first half of the trip that you can't enjoy the second half of the trip.

-yep, just pee in the water. preferably downstream from your pals. think carefully about what and when you eat before you go -- it's so much nicer to just not have to worry about pooping. :)

-you don't have to get in the water, but do you have a reason not to? 'cause when my pals an i used to float the meremac (on canoes, which may be different from you -- you're using rafts?), it was fun to just sort of loll out of the canoe, plop into the water, and float along, holding onto the canoe. another fun thing to consider is innertubes. yes, your butt will get wet.

-if you don't know whether a drink or two will cloud your judgment, don't drink. it sucks when your friends have to fish you out of the water. that said, i *do* know what my alcohol limits are, and i would scoff at a float trip that didn't involve responsible revelry.

-the amount of time you spend paddling/floating will be determined by the rate the river is travelling and the size of your party. if you have a bunch of people floating together (we used to get 12-15 canoes and form a canoe chain, mostly just floating along. but depending on current, sometimes we'd have to paddle/steer to stay together) it's a bit different than if you just have one raft.

-safety gear will (or SHOULD!) be provided by the rental company. they SHOULD explain everythign you need to know, and also SHOULD be able to give you advice about many of these questions that is specifically linked to the river activity that day.

have a great time!!!!!
posted by CitizenD at 5:54 PM on May 21, 2008

I might be unknowingly upgrading the rapids classes--it might be that the max I've done is a IV.
posted by LionIndex at 5:54 PM on May 21, 2008

np312 hit a couple of other critical points: no valuables, hydration, lip protection, shoes. re:shoes -- don't just wear flip-flops -- wear something that will stay on your feet. there may be submerged glass and cans and other sharp things.

oh, i'm floatin' down memory lane right now!

the worst experience i had on the meremac was a freak (but bad) storm. it was one of our first float trips -- and we didn't know all the in's and out's yet -- so we all were pretty badly sunburned (not having taken appropriate precautions due to the overcast day). when the storm came along, it hailed. OUCH! being pummeled by hail on sunburned skin is no fun!

other than that, we never had a lick of trouble. relax! you'll have a great time. :)
posted by CitizenD at 6:01 PM on May 21, 2008

I've floated that stretch of river before, and it's a lot of fun and not scary at all.

1. MOST IMPORTANT. Do I HAVE to get in the water?

Well, you don't have to, but that's sort of the point of most float trips. It'll be hot as hell in the summer, and floating alongside your raft for a while, or stopping on a sandbar to swim is a large part of why it's fun.

2. If I do get in the water, is it wise to drink alcohol before hand?

You know your limits in normal situations (the bar, a friends house, etc) and the river is no different. A few beers as you float is fine, but don't do anything that will compromise your judgement or safety. Since you're a weak swimmer to begin with, I'd save most of my drinking for around the campfire that night.

3. I haven't gone swimming since 2002 and I never swam in a river. Which would be better for me, a lifejacket or lifesaver?

We're not talking whitewater here. The Meremac is a pretty lazy stream in that area. No significant undertow or rapids or anything crazy like that. If you're not a strong swimmer, though, a lifejacket is always a good idea on the water. Bonus tip - if you do want to float next to the raft, try putting on your lifejacket like a diaper. You can sit in it like a chair and float along happily holding your drink.

4. Is it common for rafts to turn over? The river is supposed to be mostly class I.

If your raft turns over, it's because you've done something very stupid. The river is pretty slow. Most places give you the options of rafts or canoes. If you're new at this, I'd suggest a raft. It's pretty darn hard to tip them.

5. Are we supposed to paddle the whole time or float the whole time? Both?

You'll probably do a little of each. Most places down there drop you off, and then say 'be X miles downstream to the pickup point by sunset'. Obviously, how fast you'll have to move depends on whether you're doing a 3 mile float or a 10 mile float. Assuming you're on a short float, you can sit back and enjoy most of the time. The paddle's there to help you keep yourself off of the occasional rock or to keep from running aground on a sandbar.

6. What if I have to go to the bathroom? Will there be restrooms along the river, or do I just find a bush?

That's what the river is for. Jump in with your bathing suit, do your business, and warn people about the warm spot ;). Stay off of the banks that are private property with no trespassing marked. Do your number 2 before you leave.

7. Any other tips you have?

If you can go on a weekday, the river is a much nicer place. On weekends in summer, it'll be crowded. Some of the people will be drunk and obnoxious, others will be friendly and family-oriented. On a weekday, you get much longer stretches of quiet and time with just your group.

Wear lots of sunscreen, reapply frequently, and stay hydrated. Have a blast!
posted by chrisamiller at 6:08 PM on May 21, 2008

Hooray for the Meramec River! I saw the words "float trip" in your front-page question, and immediately had flashbacks of floating the rivers in MO, especially the Meramec. I went on many a fun float trip in that area growing up. (And, I've rarely heard that term used anywhere else that I've lived...) Pardon the lengthly answer that follows! Hope you have a great time. :)

I generally floated with my family and in canoes, not rafts, but here's what I can tell you:

1. Plan on getting a little wet, but I would not expect there to be lots of big waves coming at you. The Meramec is relatively calm. You'll probably have to walk in the water before you step into the raft, and when you get out. There will be water in the bottom of the raft, and water is likely to splash you occasionally as you row and/or if you have any evil friends in neighboring rafts. :) matildaben's suggestion about a wet suit is a good one if it's gonna be a chilly day.

2. I don't have much experience with alcohol on float trips, but if you are nervous about your swimming ability already, I would suggest stopping yourself before you get really tipsy. (And only you will know what your limit is, it's different for everyone.)

3. ditto to what matildaben says. You should be given a lifejacket, and you should wear it according to the instructions. If you decide to get in the water at a calm point in the river, the lifejacket will also help keep you buoyant so you can float down the river feet first. (Of course, this is probably not recommended by the guides, and would be totally at your own risk. But it's a fun feeling to be carried by the current. :)

4. again, ditto matildaben.

5. You go at your own pace, generally speaking, so it really depends on who you're with. If you're drinking, and in a raft, your group will probably go slower and paddle less than the folks in canoes or kayaks. I'd guess that you can expect to do some paddling, but mostly for the sake of steering when you encounter some small rapids, and for keeping yourself moving when the river gets slow. It's called a 'float trip' for a reason. You can just float, and enjoy. :)

6. ditto matildaben. There should be a lot of rocky river banks where you can pull over and get out, and walk 100 feet or so into the woods, should you prefer it. (these river banks are also good for a lunch stop) Expect to have to do that at least once during the day, especially if you'll be drinking, but you won't regret making a pit stop right before you first hop in the raft.


- WEAR SUNBLOCK and reapply regularly, even if the sun is behind clouds because the uv rays still get to you and you are going to be sitting under them all day long. It can be easy to forget. The tops of your thighs, nose, and shoulders are particularly suceptible if they are not covered. The top of your head will get really hot, too, especially if you have dark hair (or have none ;). Bring a hat or scarf, and sunglasses. (Just nothing that you care about too much! It is not hard for things to fall overboard or get left behind on a riverbank, or crushed under a foot.)

- Bring some fun snacks to pull out throughout the trip and a picnic lunch.

- Bring plenty of water tight bags to hold things you want to bring with you on the boat. (maybe a dry swimsuit or change of clothes for halfway thru the trip? a good pair of walking shoes in case you get out and explore?)

- I sometimes saw folks with water guns... this can be fun within your own group, but generally speaking don't go harrassing strangers with this. Paddles are a good alternative for splashing if you can get hit the water at the right angle, but again, don't try this on strangers.

- You might see some folks cliff diving/jumping into the river. It can be fun, but I suggest you be careful. It's hard to know how deep the water actually is, you never know if there's a shallow part hiding below, or a big rock.

- Most importantly, just try to relax and have fun! It's nice to be out in nature, without the electronic gadgets we all are so attached to. You can have some really nice and random conversations with your friends. If memory serves, the river is fairly calm most of the way, so you won't be fighting rapids most of the time. Don't be afraid to stop the raft and explore a little too!

::phew:: that turned into a much longer post than I was expecting. I have a lot of fond memories of float trips, as you can tell. I hope some of this was helpful, and that you enjoy it!
posted by inatizzy at 6:09 PM on May 21, 2008

it's a lovely, lovely river to float on. huzzah! i'm envious.

No, the Huzzah river is just down the road. It's also a lovely river to float on. :)
posted by chrisamiller at 6:10 PM on May 21, 2008

You might see some folks cliff diving/jumping into the river. It can be fun, but I suggest you be careful. It's hard to know how deep the water actually is, you never know if there's a shallow part hiding below, or a big rock.

As someone who once bruised their heel pretty badly on a submerged rock, please listed to this advice.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:13 PM on May 21, 2008

Also, be warned that the rivers in Southeast Missouri in the summertime will be full of drunken idjits. Whether or not your group is part of the drunken idjits collective I'll leave up to you to establish, but there are many groups that go floating in that area as an excuse to drink. And drink. And drink. And while it's by no means a dangerous stretch of river, it's best to have some idea of how the people you're going to be with are expecting to spend the day.
That said, it's also a lovely stretch of river, there are no "rapids" and the danger is low, and you're probably stressing too much - enjoy yourself.
posted by jferg at 6:30 PM on May 21, 2008

Are we neighbors or something Six? I drive over the Meramec on my to work in the morning (at least until they give me Hwy. 40 back) but somewhat downstream from where you're going to be.

What everyone else has said about sunburn! SPF 1,000,006 is about right. And again, what everyone has said about bringing nothing that it will cause you great remorse to loose. And again with the shoes. A pair of beat up Chuck Taylors were always my footwear of choice but whatever will stay on your feet. If you want to look really clever get yourself a five gallon bucket, the kind with the lid that takes some pounding to get on and off, and use it to store things you want to keep dry. Tie it to the raft / canoe.

If you end up in canoes rather than rafts be careful who you team up with. Experienced is good, but who won't behave in a way that will make you want to strangle them is also important. After the sunblock this may be the most important thing you do in terms of having a good time!

You will get wet. Maybe very wet. This may, or may not be on purpose. The Meramec has a reputation for treacherous undertows that will suck you down... sharks... krakens... giant serpents... doom... etc. I've not seen this so much in my experiences. What I have seen is eight beers minus one life jacket equals asking for it. You will be given a life jacket when you start. Don't take this as a personal challenge, but it's kinda hard to drown with a life jacket on. Bring some non-adult type beverages along in case all that's being supplied is alcohol. You will get thirsty.

Bring dry clothes and shoes and leave them in the car. Being wet on the river with shoes full of sand has never really bothered me. But it gets old fast on the trip home.

And while it would make the web pages that suck guy cringe, there is some good advice to be had here.

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:06 PM on May 21, 2008

Are you canoeing or rafting? Just from googling sounds like this river is pretty low-key. I have been on many a float trip here in central Iowa, so I have a lots of experience.

-You may want to invest in a small dry bag for any items that you obviously want to keep dry. I take one with me every trip -- it holds keys, a small first aid kid, sunscreen, a small towel, camera stuff, snacks, etc. Since you are going with an outfitting group, this may be provided for you.

-I take my DSLR camera on the river, but I am very careful, and store it in a dry bag as soon as I'm done taking a picture. I've also taken my small, cheap point & shoot on more drunken trips. If you have electronic anxiety, buy a waterproof disposable camera. You'll want pictures. Trust me on this one.

-Sunscreen. Waterproof. As high of an SPF as you can find. Reapply often.

-Wear decent shoes. I invested in a pair of Keen sandals last summer and I love them for canoeing. The covered toes are great for exploring the shores around the river. A pair of decent sandals like Tevas with an ankle strap will also suffice. Heck, even a pair of old sneakers is better than nothing, especially for exploring. Just don't wear flip-flops -- you'll inevitably lose one down the river. P.s. Keens are the best and not just for canoeing. I wear them all the time.

-Wear a hat. I prefer the floppy fisherman style, but whatever works for you. It will keep the sun out of your face, and you can dunk it in the river and put it back on your head if you are hot.

-You may want to pack a few snacks of your own if you are only provided with lunch. (If your trip leader is not bringing lunch, bring a lunch! Even if it is PB&J) It is nice to snack on the river. Pringles are the perfect river food. Alcohol is optional, I personally don't like drinking when it is hot out, although many of my canoeing cohorts usually choose to. Have a beer or two and enjoy yourself, but heat exhaustion + hangover is never a good time.

-My roommate is also a non-swimmer, and I had to reassure her that she wouldn't die on her first canoe trip. Although I don't know much about the river you'll be on, if it is a canoeing river it is probably pretty tame and not too deep. Wear a life vest if you are concerned about sinking, but the rivers we canoe on are rarely deep enough that the water would be over an adult's head. (Most of the time it is hardly chest-deep, wading is the more common activity) Swimming in the river is fun, just make sure you don't venture out into a spot where the current is running fast. Chances are it will slow down and you'll be able to get on the shore upstream if you do get flushed down the river. The few times I have dumped (hit a rock, etc) the water was like calf-deep and I could just stand up and gather my crap.

-It is a good idea to bunjee your coolers, bags, etc to the boat in case you do dump. If you do dump, don't try any wacky boy scout maneuvers in the middle of the river -- just float your upside down or water filled boat to the shore and dump it out there. Get a strap for your sunglasses or buy a cheap "river pair" if you are worried about them.

Have fun...I'm hoping to go canoeing this weekend. Don't stress, you will have a great time!
posted by sararah at 7:09 PM on May 21, 2008

Floating drunkenly down the river is Texas's national sport, and I seriously don't understand how people do it without getting a migraine.

You'll be on the water in full sun, with more sun reflected back up at you. Bring, and drink, plenty of water. If you do decide to drink beer, do so sparingly.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:11 PM on May 21, 2008

Whozzall goin' to the Huzzah? I love that river. So many fond memories. Bring bug spray and have a great time! I'm jealous!
posted by Thin Lizzy at 7:13 PM on May 21, 2008

I would also like to add that sunflower seeds and cherries are great river food -- it is fun to spit the husks/pits in the river. :)
posted by sararah at 7:16 PM on May 21, 2008

Response by poster: Woah thank you guys for taking out your time to answer my post. The replies were very helpful!

Re: not wanting to get wet. Well...I'm female and there's certain times of the month that I wouldn't want to be submerged in water. Getting sprayed or getting my feet wet is fine. But, I don't want to get anything above my knees or below my bellybutton wet. But hopefully things will work out and I will be able to swim, that would make the trip a lot more fun.
posted by sixcolors at 7:28 PM on May 21, 2008

1. plan to get wet to the waist. That way, if you don't, it's great, and if you are, you're ok with that. I've been in the Meramac as early as April 1, and I'm not dead. You're not going to get wet *in* the raft unless someone has a super soaker. Or you're one of those people that's so scared that they sit in the bottom, where there's some sloshing.

2. Have a few beers. Else you'll feel like a prig. "cloud your judgement" for what - paddling? Every July 4 I stand in some rapids on the Black River and help people through. I've seen people who were so drunk they couldn't stand, still get through ten times harder than what you'll see. Seriously.

One of thos neck bobbers ("life preserver") should be fine.

The only thing that'll flip a raft over on the Meramac is if you go under a bridge, and a car drives off it and lands on one end of the boat. Four guys with muscles would have trouble flipping one of htose.

Class I= not really a class, just something to call it, since there's nothing you couldn't do on a bicycle.

Float, mostly; don't paddle. Unless you stop a lot to check stuff out.

Take some TP in a ziplock, and a shovel. The meramac isn't Deliverance remote, but it's not a theme park, either.

Any other advice? Um, relax. Really. You're overthinking this even if you were watching over a no-legged guy with brain damage.

Take an old pair of shoes, hereafter known as "river shoes" because you wil never get them to not squeak, ever again.
posted by notsnot at 7:35 PM on May 21, 2008

Response by poster: Oh another question, for those who are familiar with the meramac....

What's the average depth? 5 ft? 10 ft? 20+ ft?

More important. How clear is the water? I'm freaked out by bodies water that I can see the bottom of. The part of the meramec I pass over every now and then, is quite murky, but I heard that rivers and lakes in less populated areas tend to be clearer.
posted by sixcolors at 7:38 PM on May 21, 2008

No one mentioned animals, so pay attention to any soft-shell turtles, snapping turtles or snakes you see. They are not dangerous (unless you screw with them, mostly they are sunning on rocks along the river), but they are skittish, rare creatures on float trips in MO.

Have fun and it is awesome to see float trip advice on Askme.
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:59 PM on May 21, 2008

Yes, the water is murky, and you won't be able to see the bottom where it's more than a foot deep or so. This is going to be true of just about any river, as the moving water picks up sediment.

The depth will vary depending on the width at that part and how recently it's rained. Some parts will be over your head, others will be knee or waist-deep. On average, I'd guess 5-10 feet in the very middle of the stream. You're unlikely to have to get out and drag your raft on the Meramec, but on some of it's tributaries in that area you often have to in summer.

Get used to the idea that there are fish in the water, and that the last thing any self-respecting fish wants to do is swim up to a boat of noisy, possibly drunken humans. You don't have to worry.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:04 PM on May 21, 2008

posted by metajc at 8:05 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Generally the floating stretch of the Meramec is 5 feet or less, I'd hazard 10 feet would be an absolute max unless it's been raining heavily in the area lately. It's also usually quite clear, unless, again, it's been raining heavily. That's one of the great things about floating in SE MO.
posted by jferg at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2008

Huh. Weird. Cloudy water is what bothers me - I want to be able to *see* there's no gaters down there.

Generally, with some exceptions (the Black since the hard-core four wheeler ban), the deep stuff is murky, and you can see the bottom in anything under 8 inches deep, i.e. shallows.

If you're thinking the Meremac like down where 55 passes over it, stop. The river is much smaller where you're going.

(oh and if you get stuck in a canoe - myself I prefer them, but I've been canoeing solo since I was eight - take the front and let someone with experience take the back. They can solve a lot of problems be back paddling.)
posted by notsnot at 8:48 PM on May 21, 2008

Response by poster: Oops, I meant "CANNOT see the bottom of". Murky waters are creepy even when it is supposed to be shallow. But, I'll cope. :)
posted by sixcolors at 9:25 PM on May 21, 2008

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