Rules of the river
The Swiss Lifesaving Society (SLRG) has put together rules for the river in order to prevent accidents and other incidents on the Aare. Keep the following six points in mind when on your Aare rafting trip:
- Rafters must wear a life vest.
- The raft’s maximum weight must not be exceeded.
- Do not tie rafts together, as this hinders their maneuverability.
- Research unfamiliar stretches of river before your journey.
- Only good, experienced swimmers should enter open bodies of water (rivers, ponds, lakes).
- Hypothermia can lead to muscle cramps. The colder the water, the shorter the amount of time you should stay in it.
👉 In case of emergency, dial 144 (EMS). 👈
Checking conditions before your trip
The perfect weather
Bright sunshine or partly cloudy skies. But keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving! Even on the sunniest days in Switzerland, summer storms can frequently materialize in the afternoon or evening. Our tip: Be sure to check the weather on bern.com/en/weather before heading out to raft.
It’s also not wise to raft on a day following a storm. The river – whose waters are usually crystal-clear turquoise and clean – is muddy brown after a storm and carries a lot of driftwood in the current. This makes it dangerous to swim in the Aare or to go on a rafting tour.
The perfect water level
Before heading out for a rafting tour, it’s important to check not only the weather but also the river’s water level. In the early summer in particular, glacial ice from the Bernese Alps melts and flows directly into the Aare. This raises the water mark, causing the current to become very swift and making it much more difficult to maneuver a raft. And when the water level is too low, like after a longer period without rain, rafts are at risk of running aground along the riverbanks.
We recommend downloading the Aare Guru app or going to www.aare.guru before your trip to check weather and water conditions. You should cancel your trip if there is a storm or water levels that exceed 230–250m3/s.
If you’re uncertain, you can get information at the Bern police department / Thun and Lake Wohlen police department (+41 (0)33 356 86 41).
Do's & Don'ts
👍 Stay at home if you’re injured, hungover, unwell or weak.
👍 In order to avoid cold shock, only swim if the water is above 16°C.
👍 Check your rubber raft for holes before use.
Pump up the boat halfway, apply light pressure and listen for any holes.
👍 Bridge tip #1: Navigate midway between bridge pillars.
👍 Bridge tip #2: Paddle after passing under the bridge to avoid getting caught in a rapid.
👍 Bridge tip #3: Keep an eye out for bridge divers and shout a warning if needed.
👍 Pack an additional paddle in case one gets lost.
👍 Only good swimmers should enter the Aare. Newbies to Aare rafting should wear a life jacket.
👍 At least one person should always stay on board.
👍 Raft with a minimum of two people.
👍 Give an all-clear signal: If you lose your raft but manage to get on shore unharmed, you should still call the police at 117 or 112. If an abandoned boat is found, helicopters will be called in for an extensive missing persons search. A quick call will clarify the matter.
👍 Give a heads-up: If you spot an abandoned boat, contact the police at 117 or 112 straight away. If the owner turns up, please inform the police again so that they can call off their missing persons search.
👎 Don’t eat a big meal in the hour before your journey.
👎 Don’t dive directly into the Aare from your raft. Splash some water on yourself before entering the water to avoid cold shock.
👎 Don’t overdo it with alcohol: The blood alcohol limit for Aare rafting is 0.05% (one celebratory beer is fine 😉).
👎 Avoid floating too close to the riverbanks (stones, shrubs and branches pose a danger to your boat).
👎 Under no circumstances is it allowed to tie rafts together with a rope. They cannot be maneuvered, which is especially dangerous when navigating near bridges.
👎 Don’t be careless with cigarettes. Ash can quickly burn holes in your rubber raft.
Who shouldn’t raft on the Aare?
The Aare river is very hospitable and extends a warm welcome to practically everyone to come and raft – except (and this is very important) individuals in the following categories:
Inexperienced swimmers and non-swimmers
Only experienced swimmers should venture into the Aare. Aare rafting tours usually go smoothly and without incident, but there is the possibility of the boat overturning – causing everyone and everything to land in the water. In such emergencies, it’s important for everyone to know how to swim, and to know the tricks for navigating rapids and freeing themselves from whirlpools in the river (see chapter 5, Aare you safe?).
Sufficient experience in swimming is essential on the river, also for children. We recommend that anyone under the age of 14 wear a life jacket and be accompanied by an adult. Recommended minimum age: 6 years old.
It’s best to leave dogs, cats and other four-legged friends at home. If the family dog is along for the vacation and you’re planning a rafting day, you’ll find a local dog-sitting service here.
Baby on board? Due to the bumpy movement of the waves, Aare rafting is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant.
Getting back on land the right way
It’s usually easier to enter the Aare than to get out again. For newbies, we recommend using the easiest exit point, which is at the Eichholz river pool and campgrounds. This exit point is at the end of the classic Thun Schwäbis/Uttigen–Bern route.
Follow these steps to maneuver your rubber boat back on land at Eichholz:
- Get your paddle ready as soon as you see Elfenau Park on the right side of the river. In just a few more minutes, you’ll reach the exit point.
- The Eichholz river pool is on the left side of the river after a big bend to the left. You’ll recognize it by the long pebble beach.
- The crew should then split up: One half stays in the boat while the other half jumps into the water around three meters before reaching shore and swims with the boat toward land. The river is very shallow here, so it is possible to stand.
- The boat crew paddles to shore, but not too quickly and not too slowly – at just the right speed so as not to miss the exit point.
- Toward the edge, you will notice that the current is gentler. Let yourself float slowly. The crew in the water can grasp the boat firmly and pull it toward land.
- Guide it gently onto the beach.
- Get out and pull the boat on shore together.
At the Eichholz river pool, you can paddle ashore and glide gently onto the beach. This is not possible at other locations (e.g. at the Marzili pool). There you will find red exit stairs with rails that allow you to hold on and pull your rubber boat onto land. If you keep your eyes peeled for the color red, you won’t miss the exit point.
Do not go beyond the Marzili pool, which is around ten minutes after Eichholz. Afterwards, there is a weir! Pay attention to the signs in front of the pool indicating the distance to the last exit point.