Maine Whitewater Guide Training

The dates are out. Maine Whitewater Guide Training with Northern Outdoors begins in May, and we’re looking to fill a few coveted full and part time spots for this summer and beyond. Why apply, you ask? Well let me tell you a little something about guide training with Northern Outdoors

First off, guide training is sure to leave you knowing how to steer a raft. You’ll be able to identify a rapid on the Kennebec or Penobscot River by a rock throw, and have one-liners such as “keep your paddle in the water” and “walk fast so you never have to run” so ingrained that you’ll repeat them at breakfast. But guide training is more than one liners and technical skills. Guide training is a life changing experience that impacts your relationship with others, the river, and yourself.

Scouting Magic falls Guide Training
Scouting Magic Hole with trainer Greg Caruso. Greg is known for throwing rocks to identify rapids, a highly-skilled technique he passed on to current manager and trainer Zach Davis
Photo by Christopher Harrison


The powerful experience of guide training is echoed across Northern Outdoors’ employees, past and present. Excitement, exhaustion, fear, and adrenaline all mesh together to form the foundation of some of the most memorable relationships in your life. The people you train and work with, if you continue on to guide for Northern Outdoors, become part of your extended family. The river family, we’ll call it. You depend on each other, you trust each other, you look out for one another.

Northern Guides on Hudson River
Northern Outdoors guide staff “professional development” trip to
New York’s Hudson and Black Rivers, 2013

That last piece is key: looking out for one another. This important takeaway from guide training is described well by veteran raft guide and Penobscot trainer Todd Mercer who writes, “I learned by watching Paul (Sylvester, a 1990s trainer and guide) that there was nothing more important than watching out for your friends.”

penobscot swim team
Todd and Alex had countless Penobscot River adventures together, including sharing shirts…

As a river guide, you will inevitably find yourself in a high-stress situation on the river. Water is powerful, and as legendary coon-skin hat wearing guide George Foster once said, rafting “ain’t the tea cup ride at disneyland”. When a raft flips in the Kennebec River gorge or pins on Guardian on the Penobscot River, your co workers need to be able to trust you’ll be there. This trustworthiness and interdependency build the foundation for your relationships at Northern, and permeate your relationships off river as well. Multiple research studies point to the bonding nature of stressful situations, and the meaningful narratives that result from these experiences. This finding holds true here, as our raft guides confront challenges daily and take great pride in working to overcome them with the support and teamwork of the river family.

Northern Outdoors Guides

The River…

These relationships with other guides and your guests are incredibly important, but not the only relationship you build as a guide. Each day, the majestic, graceful, and powerful river shares itself with you. Each day it both nurtures and challenges you. It excites and humbles you. Each day is different; the river is as dynamic as the people in your raft. You will learn something new about the river every time you venture into its waters, and as any raft guide will tell you, the day you don’t learn something means it’s time to hang up your paddle.

Kennebec River Gorge Whitewater
Autumn Morning in the Kennebec River Gorge

This is what keeps us coming back for more. A constant, ever-evolving and growing relationship with the most essential piece of human life: water. Northern Outdoors has a high retention rate, with many of our staff returning year after year. For example, the 2018 full time staff had an average 10+ years of employment, with nearly three quarters of our full time staff having trained over 5 years ago. On any trip with Northern, you will have staff ranging from age 21 to 65 years old and from all walks of life: recent college graduates to teachers, ski patrollers to farmers. As a new guide, you will have some of the most skilled and experienced veteran staff mentoring you every single day.

Northern staff 1992 &  2016
Northern Outdoors Staff Photo through the years: 1992 vs 2016


Guiding at Northern Outdoors builds relationships with others, the river, and possibly most importantly, with yourself. During training and as a guide, you will confront fears, overcome obstacles, and push yourself to the limit physically and mentally. You will reconnect with nature, and disconnect from the outside world. You will self reflect as you make mistakes, stumble, and get back up on your feet again. Rest assured, you will come out of a summer of guiding with improved communication, leadership skills, and confidence. These are skills you can take with you anywhere, whatever your “big kid” job may be after rafting.

Northern Outdoors River Guides Past and Present
Northern Outdoors river guides past and present pictured with their families
Left to Right: Zach Davis (Guide Class of 2011), Emily Yearwood (2006), Suzie Hockmeyer (Owner, 1976), Stephanie Koetzle (1999), Kyle Hockmeyer (1995), Brooks Sanborn (1997), Michelle Sanborn (reservation staff 2003), Andy Ferran (1999), Shannon Ferran (2000) and kiddos.

For some, Northern Outdoors is a stepping stone; one you’ll definitely come back and visit, as the friendships you have built here will stay with you. Many marriages even have their roots at Northern Outdoors, resulting in a life long commitment born from the adventures and adrenaline of river life.

But if you have plans to stay just “a year or two” keep in mind, it’s hard to leave. “I got sucked into the vortex” some say, after 10 years of guiding at Northern Outdoors. If that’s the case, let it take you, go with the flow. Maybe whitewater rafting IS your big kid job. Or maybe growing up isn’t so cool after all…

See you out there.
Emily, Guide Class of 2006

So, are you into it? Read more of the details on Maine whitewater guide training with Northern Outdoors.We’ll see you down river…

Join the Facebook group for 2020 Guide Training.

More photos from Christopher Harrison, photographer during guide class 2011…

River guides in raft barn during guide training
Raft barn logistics meeting

Dam Road to Kennebec
The well-known Dam Road; the route to the river

Guide Training Carrying Raft
Pushing (or carrying) rubber is what we do.

Harris Station Kennebec River
Rafts floating at the base of Harris Station at low water

Whitewater guide training Magic Falls
Training group running Magic Hole

Flip Day Guide Training
Flip day on the Kennebec River

Guide Training Float Fog
Calm sections do exist on the Kennebec River, giving trainees a chance to catch their breath and listen to the stories and advice of the trainers

Are you a guide? Comment below with the year you trained for Northern Outdoors!


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4 Responses

  1. I was a two year guide, part time, class of 1992. It was a fantastic experience and the only thing that dragged me away from the river were responsibilities in my “big kid” life. The two years I was there the only women rafting the river for Northern were Suzie and I; It is great to see so many women finding the river now. This is a fantastic opportunity for young adults and I highly recommend Northern Outdoors whitewater training school. Memories you’ll never forget….I can still hear Cecil say to me “You sure you want to run Goodbye Hole?” HA ha….No!!

    1. Ahh, the big kid life! Thanks so much for the comment Christine 🙂 Thanks for being part of paving the way for female guides- I can assure you, we now have a GREAT crew of ladies!

      Your memory of Cecil makes me laugh…I remember being in a boat with Chris Russell and hearing a similar line from him! Ha!

  2. I recognize the Hudson put-in ramp and the Whitewater Challengers raft behind our honored guests. My favorite memory of that day was coming in for the Saturday trip that week and finding some of Kennebec’s finest in the ‘fridge. A finer group of fellow guides would be hard to find.

    1. Awesome- love to hear this Jeff! Those were the days 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you and your family again this fall!

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