Expanding guide qualifications

Expanding guide qualifications in 2021: delivering the new Whitewater Guide Award

Following the successful IRF GTE Instructor Conference in May this year, it was time to deliver on the goals of expanding guide qualifications around the world. The dynamic objective of this goal was to launch the IRF GTE Whitewater Guide Award.

Saftey talk and instructions at the put in of the Breitach River

This award has been in development for just over a year now following GTE Committee discussion and a desire from the rafting community for an award to cover water craft in addition to standard rafts. Many rafting operators now offer various options for clients to get in and on whitewater. We saw that there is a need for a globally recognised qualification to help these rafting operators and guides provide consistently safe and reliable trips.

Expanding guide qualifications in 2021

By Sebastian Larcher, IRF GTE Assessor

On June 13 & 14 this year, I held the first IRF GTE Whitewater Guide Assessment. The Allgäu area in the far south of Germany is a popular destination, and there are many rafting operators and outdoor activity companies around. For most of the year, the Iller river and its tributaries do not have enough water for rafting, or rafting trips are mainly done for families and children. All the local companies offer trips with inflatable canoes and kayaks, sit-on-tops, packrafts and tubing. A prime location to certify some Whitewater Guides!

A group of motivated young guides took the initiative. Together we gathered a total of eight guides from different companies to be assessed as Level 2 and Level 3 Whitewater Guides.

Six of them have been guiding trips on client-steered river crafts for several years and are IRF level 3 Raft Guides. Two of them are just starting into their first guiding season. All of them are local kayakers.

The team at the take out after the Tubing trip on the Ostrach River

We gathered on the morning of the 13th. That day we were running the upper Ostrach river. A fast and technical grade 3 run with many turns. The river does not make it easy for candidates as it challenges the guide to keep control of the group. Perfect for a guide workshop and assessment. Strong eddies, surf holes and nice play spots made this a great river to assess different candidates on. We made a total of four runs that day. The shuttle was short, leaving plenty of time on the river. There was a good exchange in knowledge and skills among the candidates, both on-river, for safety demonstrations and instruction techniques.

Early the next morning, we came back to the Ostrach for a tubing session. Some of the team have never tubed before and were pleasantly surprised – it was a fun and exciting way to start the day. On that trip, we also did the IRF GTE throwbag test and the swam the first rapid of the day.

We then moved on to the lower Breitach and Iller Rivers that had different challenges, like technical rapids, a weir, a portage and several small but tricky drops. On these runs, we also included several scenarios: in addition to the standard swimmer / (multiple) flip rescue, we also practiced foot entrapment and wrap drills. We finished off the day with a swim at the bottom of the Ruby drop, the biggest rapid on the Iller River. A steep, powerful grade 3 rapid with a big hole at the end. The river was just too inviting and the weather way too hot to not have another swim.

Wraps and pins happen occasionally on trips on the Iller River, so we did a scenario on one of our trips. Luckily there was an old boat around that could be abused for the purpose

It was a great two days of training and assessment. Everybody felt they learned something that could be used in the everyday guiding work. Water levels were great, and even the small Ostrach River (that hardly ever has enough water) gave us good challenges. It was great to see the motivation, professional attitude and fun these guides are having on the river. Some of the other companies in the area already inquired about a similar IRF Guide Training Program for next year, and I am looking forward to be getting back to the Allgäu in the future.



All eight candidates passed their IRF GTE Whitewater Guide (Category A) assessments and we welcome them all to the IRF’s #RiverFamily.

The Whitewater Guide Award is the latest award added to the successful globally recognised IRF Guide Training & Education (GTE) System. The award is aimed at those in the rafting world who aim to be expanding guide qualification activities within rafting operators. The Award has two categories: Category A where the guide and clients are typically sat or kneeling and use hands or paddles to propel themselves; and, Category B where the guide and clients are predominantly in the water and use legs/feet or flippers to propel themselves.



Sebastian LarcherSebastian Larcher has been an IRF Instructor since 2014 with decades of experience in the whitewater industry. You can usually find him instructing in Europe and warmer climates in eastern and southern Africa. Following his dissertation on the Whitewater Guide he has been approved and accepted as an IRF Assessor. Sebastian has also been nominated to join the GTE Committee which oversees the development and drive in expanding guide qualifications.