Kern River Safety

The greatest common denominator of Kern River incidents is related to one item: Not wearing a life jacket. While commercial and private rafters are almost always exempt from the PFD statistic, remaining diligent with safety is a must on the Kern, as it is on any other river. Below are general guidelines and reminders on river safety. This is not an exhaustive list.

Wear your PFD. Always.

Lifejackets save lives. Leave your lifejacket on while on the water.

Experience Matters

Make sure you surround yourself with good boaters that have recent Kern experience. Like any other river, conditions on the Kern can change and rapids or sections of river can be altered. Rafting with those that have been recently provides a layer of safety against some of those changes.


Stay away from sieves. Remain diligent in looking downstream.

Do not drink alcohol

Do not drink alcohol while rafting. Not only does it impair your judgment, but you still have to drive a shuttle back from takeout.

Never go solo

Never raft alone, take at least two boats, and always tell someone where you’re going and what time you’re expected back.

Wear a helmet.

Wear a helmet in the whitewater. Helmets are now considered standard equipment for river rafting.


The Kern River has significant vegetative growth, which means that there are many opportunitiesĀ for strainers to appear. Remain diligent on looking downstream and stay away from them if you come across these features.

Have good equipment. And bring the equipment.

Throw out sun faded PFDs. Bring wrap kits. Don’t leave the First Aid kit behind. Wear a flip line. Have a whistle and a knife.

Take a Swift Water Rescue class

A SWR course is a great toolset to become comfortable with. We highly recommend taking a class.

Scout what you don’t know

Scout rapids that you don’t know or haven’t seen at a particular water level.