Jetboats and Packrafts

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As Packrafting gets more popular, there is more potential for conflict between Packrafters and other river users.

With a bit of common courtesy, Packrafters can demonstrate considerate behaviour which will help ensure safety and a good reputation in the outdoor community.

Jetboat capabilities

Jetboats are very capable watercraft, and can get up some big rapids (Class III or more). They are actually more capable of negotiating shallow water than Packrafts. At high speed, only a few centimeters of the hull is below the surface. Jetboating is most common in low gradient, braided rivers, but they can (and do) negotiate steeper, more technical rivers. So even when it the rapids are interesting, or it gets really shallow, Jetboats can still be a hazard to Packrafters!

It is easy to find out where commercial Jetboats might be, but there are lots of recreational Jetboaters who could theoretically be on any river that a Jetboat is capable of negotiating.

NZ Commercial Jet Boat Association.

Jet Boat New Zealand (Recreational boaters)

They have the ability to stop reasonably quickly, but they do need deep water to do this. Any Jetboat negotiating shallow sections has no choice but to keep going fast (or risk beaching themselves).

Jetboats need to be moving relative to the water in order to have directional control. That means that when they go upstream, they are able to go slower relative to the banks, with more opportunity to peer around blind corners with more space and time. Conversely, when heading downstream, they need to go quite fast in order to have control, meaning there is less time available to avoid a collision with any unexpected hazards (ie you and your mates in packrafts…).

Especially in gorges, where the river changes direction frequently, the time between hearing the Jetboat and its arrival may be very short (like 10-20 seconds)

The Jetboat courtesy code

1) Do your homework.

(search this site, the list of members on the NZ Commercial Jetboat Association site and use Google!) to find out if there’s any known commercial or recreational Jetboating on the river you want to paddle.

2) Pick up the phone.

If there’s a commercial operator, give them a call. You can let each other know when and where you intend to be on the river. Plus they can often pass info about the presences of Packrafters on to any recreational Jetboaters on the river that day.

3) Share the space on the river.

Discuss the issue of Jetboats with your team before you get on the water, and ensure everyone knows how to behave.

On rivers with steep sides or in gorges, try to keep the group mostly on one side of the river; This gives Jetboats a clear line to travel, rather than trying to thread through a flotilla of Packrafts spread out from bank to bank.

When you’re in a rapid, do your best to follow a line that gives a Jetboat an option to avoid you.

Using good scouting technique also helps to see and hear Jetboats earlier. Get wide on each bend; position on the river so you can see round corners early.

4) Keep alert for Jetboats.

As soon as you hear a jetboat, alert the rest of your team as you move immediately to the side of the river. Everyone should catch an eddy and wait till the Jetboat goes by. Don’t forget that Jetboats create a fair bit of wake, so take a moment for it to dissipate before starting paddling again.

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