A Look at What Makes it Possible to Offer This Adventure
Understanding the constraints helps us ensure that we can offer these adventures for the long term.
It’s a lot easier to follow procedures when we understand why they exist in the first place. In this section, we take a look at some of the steps we can take to ensure that our adventures are sustainable and that we follow the rules.
We can’t afford to offer these itineraries if we lose money on them. As guides, our greatest impact is often in generating repeat business through positive experiences and ensuring that the equipment is kept in good condition. This includes the vehicles, the rafts, frames, PFDs and other paddling equipment.
Lost equipment is typically the main issue with raft tours where gear has to be loaded and unloaded a few times a day. Always do a check before leaving a location to make sure that nothing is left behind and that everything is tied down, whether in the rafts or vehicles. Keep in mind however that it’s never worth putting yourself or the guests at risk to recover equipment.
There are three main areas to consider as guides.
The first one is to follow Leave no Trace principles, making sure that we minimize our impact on the places we visit and leading by example.
The second one is simply being courteous to other users, whether they are random camping near the river access or paddling on the river.
The third one is reporting abuse of the land and illegal activities. Never put yourself or the guests at risk to do this but instead use the Zoleo or InReach to let the office know what you’ve observed. Provide as many details as possible and it will be passed on to the appropriate enforcement agency.
In short, follow our guiding principle and do the right thing. Perfection is not expected, do your best given the situation and resources available.
Adventure tours are not governed by a single legislation in Alberta but rather by a number of legislations, permits and industry standards. We discussed these in the Adventure Guide Training Course and we’ll only cover some of the requirements that are specific to scenic float tours here. These are our guiding permit, the Special-purpose Vessels Regulations, Occupational Health & Safety legislation, food safety and the scope of practice.
We cannot operate these tours if we fail to comply with any of these requirements.
All our river access locations are within the Kiska/Wilson PLUZ and covered under our Temporary Field Authorization (TFA) from Alberta Environment and Parks. Some of the key requirements are:
- The guides must have a copy of the TFA with them and must present it to enforcement officers upon request.
- Our group size is limited to 12 guests per guide and a maximum of 4 groups per location at any given time.
- All our operations must be within our risk management plan, leave no trace, follow all applicable public lands regulations and not impede the use of the area by the public.
We do not have permits to access the river through the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve for our tours. Keep in mind, however, that in case of emergency human life takes priority and a reasonable breach of the rules is acceptable.
Special-purpose Vessels Regulations
Commercial tours using inflatable boats, including rafts and in some cases inflatable kayaks, are regulated by Transport Canada through the Special-purpose Vessels Regulations of the Shipping Act.
Some of the key requirements that apply to our tours are:
- Guides must be at least 18 years old and have a valid standard first-aid certificate.
- Guides must be aware of the current and expected conditions, expected hazards and the emergency action plan.
- The safety briefing must include information about the likely hazards, general safety precautions, routine and emergency procedures to follow, and how to use the PFDs (and other safety equipment as required).
- Guests must wear a life jacket approved for whitewater rafting at all times. These are the larger life jackets with a minimum of 22 lbs of flotation. A canoe-style PFD is not allowed for tours conducted with a raft.
- Guides must wear the same life jackets as the guests or a PFD with a quick-release harness (i.e. a rescue PFD).
- Each raft must have a first-aid kit, throw bag and a copy of the emergency action plan.
- A pump, repair kit, spare oar and spare oarlock must be on the raft, or in one of the rafts if we have multiple rafts travelling together, or in a cache located within 5 km of the rafts.
- All items must be properly stowed and secured on the raft when they are not in use.
- No guests can be allowed on the raft if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are impaired by alcohol or drugs to an extent that they might present a hazard.
Our tours are in class 1 and 2 waters only. Additional rules apply to tours in class 3 and above waters, including:
- Guides must have completed at least 5 trips in class 3 or above waters.
- At least one guide must have a swiftwater rescue certificate for overnight trips.
- A minimum of two rafts or one raft accompanied by another vessel (e.g. a kayak).
- No rafting between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise.
- Helmets must be worn unless there are no risks of head injuries.
- Clothing that offers thermal protection (e.g. a wetsuit) is required if the water temperature is below 15 °C.
These are different than the rules that apply for the recreational use of rafts, and for guided excursions using canoes, kayaks or standup paddleboards. Those activities are regulated by the Small Vessels Regulations.
In Alberta, the Occupational Health & Safety Act, Regulation and Code are the main laws that govern safety in adventure tourism and outdoor recreation. The requirements apply in various ways to the employers, staff, volunteers, guests on tours and the public.
The requirements that we discussed in the Adventure Guide Training Course apply to scenic float tours, including those for first-aid kits, first-aid certifications, risk assessment, risk mitigation, emergency response and staff training.
The OH&S legislation typically sets high-level requirements and provides flexibility in how we implement safeguards. One area where the OH&S Code is more prescriptive is in regards to the use of life jackets (sections 240 and 241). In those sections, the requirement is that a life jacket must be worn at all times when there is a risk of drowning and that if a PFD is worn a life jacket must also be present on the boat. Those requirements conflict with those of the Special-purpose Vessels Regulations which allows guides to wear a rescue PFD and the guidance we have received is that the Transport Canada regulations can be used in this situation to meet the OH&S requirements.
Any food that we provide to the guests must be handled in compliance with the Alberta Food Regulations and our Food Handling Permit from AHS.
The main item that applies to our scenic float tours is the requirement that all food be kept below 4 °C or above 60 °C. We’ll discuss additional requirements in the riverside cooking section.
Scope of Practice
We use the Outdoor Council of Canada Scope of Practice for our operations. Guides can lead tours, under the supervision of a more experienced leader or as part of a community of outdoor leaders, that meet these criteria:
- Single-day tours in Class 1 Paddling Environment;
- Delivered according to a pre-set itinerary under the guidelines of a risk management plan; and
- Pre-tour checks include the current and expected river conditions.
To lead others in higher class paddling environments, the guide must possess additional training and experience that has been validated as sufficient by other respected outdoor leaders. In our case, the in-person training includes the training required to lead tours on sections of the North Saskatchewan River that are Class 2 Paddling Environments.
The requirements listed above are those that apply to our operations. If you are working in a different guiding context, in a different location or for a different organization you may be required to follow additional or different regulations. A few things to keep in mind are listed below.
A Temporary Field Authorization and/or a Guiding Permit from Alberta Environment and Parks are typically required for guided activities on public lands. This applies even if only the river access is under their jurisdiction.
Municipalities may have some additional requirements, including bylaws, permits or business licenses.
Canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards fall under a different set of regulations than rafts. Those activities are covered under the Guided Excursions section of the Small Vessels Regulations.
School groups and accredited summer camps often have additional rules that service providers must follow in order to work with them. These include the Safety guidelines for physical activity in Alberta schools.