Few units have the necessary experience, skill, and equipment to address the needs for any and all outdoor activities. Hence, units frequently take advantage of a commerical outfitter’s expertise and equipment.
Regarding the use of commercial outfitters for river-based activities such as rafting, adult leaders should not substitute the outfitter’s judgment on the safety of the river for their own. A less than responsible outfitter can send a Scout group down a river which exceeds the skill level of the participants. Outfitters clearly have different concerns than do adult leaders, and are usually protected by a signed waiver of liability, which may color their judgment.
Adult leaders are guardians for their Scouts, while outfitters are not. Remember, the duty of care includes the selection and use of competent outfitters.
Importantly, the fact that a commercial outfitter offers support for a particular outdoor activity does not necessarily mean that the activity offered is appropriate for the skill, or maturity level, of the Scouts in question.
The outfitter has no personal knowledge of the Scouts, while the supervisory leader does. The leader is thus in a better position to determine the appropriateness of the activity for the participants (part of the duty of care) than the outfitter, particularly as conditions change.
A trip on a river under challenging conditions might seem to Scouts and adults alike to be a thrilling event, but not when compared to a possible catastrophic conclusion, if the conditions far exceed the skill level of the participants. Remember, a white water trip is not an amusement park ride!
If the risk is potentially catastrophic, should custodial groups (such as Scout groups) participate in the event? Leaders can always hope the activity ends well, but hope is not a plan! Indeed, since 2005, there have been reported at least 7 Scouting deaths (1 Scout, 6 adults) as a result of white water rafting (all different rivers).
See, also, this story, one of many similar tragic white water stories, where it was alleged that inexperienced kayakers were permitted to traverse dangerous rapids without adequate instruction and supervision.
And, this story, where a rafting group was sent down a river whose water level was 10+ feet higher than normal due to excessive storm rainfall, resulting in a death.
And, this story, where several Boy Scout canoeing groups were permitted to travel a swollen river beyond the participants’ skill levels, requiring rescue by others.
Properly matching the skill and maturity level of the participants to the conditions of the river is crucial to a successful outcome. That is a decision that the leader is going to have to make, as the outfitter may be unlikely to do so. Remember, you are putting youth on that river!