When rafting on the Aare, each person must have either a life jacket with a collar or a personal life ring. Approved life jackets and rings as well as further information about safety on the Aare can be found at aareyousafe.ch.
Rules of the river
The Swiss Lifesaving Association SLRG has established river rules to prevent accidents and other mishaps on the Aare. The following points are to be observed when floating down the Aare:
- Only experienced swimmers should go into open water (rivers and lakes).
- Passengers in inflatable rafts and rubber boats must be equipped with a life jacket.
- The maximum weight specified for the boat must not be exceeded.
- Do not tie rafts together – otherwise it becomes very difficult or impossible to manoeuvre them.
- Write your name and address on your boat with a waterproof pen.
- Unknown river areas should be avoided or scouted out before the trip.
- People and animals must never be tied to the boat.
- Cold water shortens the trip – low body temperature can lead to muscle cramps.
- All the passengers in a group should avoid alcohol, not spend too long in the hot sun, and check the weather forecast before the trip.
Contacting the police – even in the case of a supposedly harmless incident – makes it easier to reunite unattended boats with their owners and prevents costly search operations. As soon as the entire group is safe, the all-clear signal is given to the rescuers
In case of emergency, immediately call the police (117 or 112) and the ambulance (144).
On sunny days, thunderstorms often develop in Switzerland during the afternoon and evening. However, even on the day after a thunderstorm it is not advisable to set off down the river because the otherwise turquoise, crystal-clear, clean water turns muddy brown and carries a lot of floating debris. This makes it dangerous not only for swimming in the Aare, but also for a rafting trip. Our tip: Be sure to check the weather in advance at bern.com/en/weather.
Water level too high
In addition to the weather, you also need to check the water level before setting out on an Aare rafting trip. Early summer in particular is when the glacier ice in the Bernese Alps melts and flows directly into the Aare. As the water level rises, currents become much stronger, and manoeuvring your raft can be extremely demanding.
Water level too low
On the other hand, if the water level is too low, e.g. after a long dry period, rubber boats can run aground near the shore. Places where the river is not deep enough are often recognisable by eddies in the water. Extreme caution is required in these areas so that your rubber boat is not damaged and no one is injured.
Apart from the weather, we recommend checking the water level on the “Aare Guru” app or at www.aare.guru (in German) before each rafting tour.
For first-timers, families and tourists
100-180 m3/sec: All systems go. The flow rate on the Aare gives you enough time to manoeuvre and react.
For experienced Aare rafters with boats that are easy to manoeuvre.
180-230 m3/sec: Caution is the order of the day! The flow rate on the Aare leaves you little time to react and avoid hazards (embankments, whirlpools, low-hanging branches, trees lying in the line of travel, bridge columns, etc.).
For professionals only
from 230 m3/sec: Utmost alertness and caution is mandatory! At this discharge rate and with the resulting flow pressure on obstacles, only professionals with equipment designed for this purpose should venture out on the Aare. At this flow rate, even professional rescue services can only help to a limited extent in an emergency.
If you are unsure or have any questions, the Bern cantonal police and the maritime police from Lake Thun and Lake Wohlen will be happy to provide information: +41 31 638 86 30
Do's & Don'ts
👍🏼 Stay at home in case of injuries, hangovers, ill health or a physically weak condition.
👍🏼Only enter the Aare when the water temperature is 16 degrees or higher to prevent cold shock.
👍🏼Check your rubber boat for holes and other damage before use.
👍🏼Aim for the centre between bridge columns and paddle hard to avoid getting caught in the currents.
👍🏼Watch out for swimmers jumping off bridges and give warning signals.
👍🏼Pack spare paddles so that you can still steer in case you lose one.
👍🏼Only experienced swimmers are allowed in the Aare – one life jacket per person is compulsory!
👍🏼At least one person must remain on board at all times – never go rafting alone or let the entire group swim at once in the Aare.
👍🏼Write your name, address and telephone number on your raft.
👍🏼In case of emergency, immediately call the police (117 or 112) and the ambulance (144).
👍🏼Alert: Anyone who sees an abandoned rubber boat should contact the police (117 or 112).
👍🏼As soon as the group is safe after an incident, give the all-clear signal.
How to locate holes in your boat: Inflate the rubber boat halfway, close the valve tightly and apply light pressure to the surface. You will hear air escaping from the rubber boat wherever a hole is found. Listen well!
👎🏼Don’t eat a large meal one hour before entering the river.
👎🏼Never jump directly from your rubber boat into the Aare. Wet your body first and accustom it to the cold, refreshing water.
👎🏼No drinks, no worries: When rafting on the Aare, 0.5% is the upper limit for alcohol (one beer for fun is allowed).
👎🏼Whenever possible, avoid floating too close to the shore – there can be stones and hanging bushes and branches.
👎🏼Never tie several rubber boats together with a rope – otherwise it becomes impossible to manoeuvre them.
👎🏼Be careful with cigarettes: A rubber boat can be punctured very quickly by the hot ash.
Who shouldn’t raft on the Aare?
❌ Untrained or non-swimmers
Only experienced swimmers should brave the waters of the Aare. Even though an Aare rafting tour is usually relaxed and incident-free, your rubber boat may tip over, with the whole group and their belongings ending up in the water. For such emergencies, the group should be able to swim well and know which tricks to use to escape from rapids and whirlpools in a river.
Sufficient swimming experience is the be-all and end-all for children as well. For under-14s, we recommend life jackets and adult accompaniment. The recommended minimum age is 6 years.
Dogs, cats and other fluffy family members are much better off staying on dry land. If Fido is with you on your Bern holidays and you don't want to miss out on a rafting tour, you can find a Bernese dog-sitting service here.
Baby on board? Due to the jerky movements of the waves, Aare rafting is not recommended for anyone expecting.
Exiting made easy
Getting into the Aare is usually easier than getting out again. For newbies, we recommend the easiest of all exit points: the one at the Eichholz riverside pool and campgrounds, at the end of the legendary route from Thun Schwäbis (or Uttigen) to Bern.
Your raft can be smoothly manoeuvred out of the water at the Eichholz exit point.
- As soon as Elfenau Park appears on the right side of the river, have your paddles ready. From there it's only a few minutes to the exit.
- The Eichholz riverside pool is on the left after a large left-hand bend and can be recognised by its long pebble beach.
- Split up your group – half of them should stay in the raft while the other half hop into the water about three metres from the shore and swim in (they will soon be able to stand in the water).
- The group in the raft paddles to the shore – not too fast and not too slow, so as not to miss the exit.
- At the edge, the water flows more slowly – the group in the water can hold the raft and pull it towards the shore.
- Beach your raft, glide gently onto the pebble shore, disembark and pull the raft up onto the shore together.
At the Eichholz riverside pool, your group can paddle to the shore and glide gently onto the beach. This is not possible in other places (e.g. at the Marzili pool). There are red exit stairs there with railings that you can hold onto in order to pull your raft ashore. Look out for the red stairs!
Be sure to get out of the Aare at the Marzili pool, about a 10-minute float after the Eichholz riverside pool – there is a weir (low head dam) after that! Pay attention to the various signs in front of the riverside pool indicating the distance to the final exit point.