Business Overview

A whitewater rafting business helps customers navigate rough waters by supplying them with the equipment and/or the guides they need to safely head down the river.

Who is this business right for?

Those who love showing people a good time outdoors. Whitewater rafting is made for the adventurous, but not everyone realizes that they don't have to be an expert paddler to successfully steer. A good owner makes whitewater rafting accessible to practically anyone and finds a way to deliver a quality experience no matter the odds.

What happens during a typical day at a whitewater rafting business?

The majority of the day is spent scheduling tours, completing river runs, and transporting customers to and from their destinations. Owners may give the tours, coordinate supplies, interface with customers and employees, or manage schedules.

What is the target market?

The target market can be huge for whitewater rafting, especially in tourist cities. Families or visitors looking for activities while on vacation will make up a large portion of your profits, but you may also receive business from die-hard water rafters who are looking to challenge themselves on the next big run.

How does a whitewater rafting business make money?

Whitewater rafting businesses charge customers to either rent their equipment or take their tours. Equipment may include anything from kayaks to helmets, usually lend out per piece rather than as a package. Tour prices typically include all the gear a customer would need plus a tour guide, so owners will price the excursions based on demand, labor, and cost of equipment.

What is the growth potential for a whitewater rafting business?

Growth potential can be solid for a whitewater rafting business — it's a fun activity that can never be outsourced. While there may be saturation in certain areas, owners may be surprised at how they can create demand in more rural areas just by offering a quality product.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful whitewater rafting business?

Those who are trained in rafting will likely do well in this business. While it’s theoretically possible to hire trained staff and managers to take care of the day-to-day business, owners should understand how rivers work before choosing their employees. Owners should also have people skills to successfully interface with both staff and customers.

What are the costs involved in opening a whitewater rafting business?

Average start-up costs can be as low as $10,000 and as high as $50,000. You’ll need to buy the rafting equipment (including safety gear), secure a license, and purchase liability insurance. In addition, you’ll need some sort of facility to house the equipment in. While you may be able to get away with shelter as basic as a large shed, you may want to spring for something large enough to accommodate more traditional business features (e.g., bathrooms, snacks, etc.) You’ll also need to account for the salary of the staff.

What are the steps to start a whitewater rafting business?

Once you're ready to start your whitewater rafting business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your whitewater rafting business is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your whitewater rafting business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a whitewater rafting business?

Safety is going to be tantamount to your success. Not only will safety limit your chances of getting sued in the case of accidental injury, but it will also make your customers far more likely to try your business over another's. All employees will need to be certified in CPR, general first aid, and river rescue techniques. Your staff will need to stay cool under pressure and be willing to handle all kinds of customers if you hope to generate good word-of-mouth.

Owners should look at what’s being offered in the area they want to target before deciding on the types of packages they want to offer. They may even want to give tours in their spare time to get a better sense of the market (not to mention their own guide skills.) Some whitewater rafting companies will offer outings by the hour or the length of the river course. They may offer overnight packages where everyone gets to eat and camp at the bottom of the river. Visit your ideal location repeatedly and talk to fellow business owners to get a sense of the etiquette on the river too. Park rangers and authorities can give you great information as to the potential barriers that stand in the way of your business.

All guides should have plenty of ongoing safety training to keep their skills sharp and passengers safe. But one of the smartest things an owner can do is hire guides who are flexible while on the river. You may want a guide to be more daring with certain groups and more conservative with others. It’s this kind of extra attention to detail that can make it easier for a whitewater rafting business to make a name for themselves when they’re first starting out. Finally, find out what the most popular equipment in your area is so you have a good idea of what customers are looking for.

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a whitewater rafting business

Local and internet advertising will be the best way to market your whitewater rafting business. Major search engines like Google will display your ads to people who search for whitewater rafting in your area, or you can use television or radio to get your name out there. You can also consider offering half price or even free trips when first getting started to attract customers.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

In addition to safety and excellent guides, you’ll need to have an efficient way to book customers, give them their equipment, and pick them up. Customers are looking for every last detail to be taken care of so they can just relax and enjoy themselves on the river.

How and when to build a team

You’ll need to hire staff immediately unless you’re giving limited tours on a part-time basis. Preferably, you’ll be hiring experts in rafting, but this may be difficult to find in what’s usually considered a seasonal job. At the very least, you’ll need to hire people who are strong swimmers and willing to learn the art whitewater rafting.

Legal Considerations

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a barrel making business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

A Whitewater Rafting business is generally run out of a storefront or small house. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a Whitewater Rafting business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your Whitewater Rafting business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Liability Waiver

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, a Whitewater Rafting businesses should have their clients sign waivers.

An example of an appropriate waiver can be found here

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

Whitewater rafting trips in the most popular areas can charge up to $50 or more for just a short run down the river, and hundreds of dollars for an overnight trip. Look to your direct competition to find out what the going rates are for different types of outings.

What are the ongoing expenses for a whitewater rafting business?

The major costs will be staff salaries, equipment maintenance/replacement, lease/mortgage payments, and liability insurance.

How much profit can a whitewater rafting business make?

While equipment and staff salaries can be pricey, the profit margins for whitewater rafting can be huge. Your exact margins will be determined by the demand and the quality of equipment you use but can be as high as 50 – 60% or even more. If you give 5 trips a day at an average of $100 a run, you can make as much as $500 – 600 a day.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Renting out additional water equipment or selling gear can make your business more profitable. Even offering t-shirts, snacks/beverages, or specialty photographs can significantly contribute to your profits.

Next Steps

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