Whitewater Rafting River Terms

“This stretch of the river is class 4 rapids and will require front and back strokes on my command to follow our line. Everyone ready?”

We get it, you want to fully understand the talk to successfully walk the walk. The table below will get you up to speed in no time on whitewater rafting river terms.

We also recommend to become familiar with whitewater rafting hand signals and river difficulties.

AboveUpriver from
Back PivotTurning the raft 180 degrees with the stearn facing downstream
Back RowA stroke consisting of full body movement for a more powerful move
BelowDownriver from
BendCurve in a river
BladeThe wide, flat part of an oar or paddle
BootiesWetsuit footwear for warmth
BowThe front of the boat
BraceSupport yourself/raft to prevent a flip or going overboard
Breaking WaveA wave wich falls back on itself upstream
CapsizeTo flip in the water
ChannelA deeper, narrower section of the river
ChuteA channel between obstructions moving faster than surrounding water
Class I RapidsFast moving water with riffles and small waves
Class II Rapids: NoviceStraightforward rapids with wide channels requiring occasional maneuvering
Class III: IntermediateRapids with irregular waves requiring complex maneuvers
Class IV: AdvancedPowerful, predictible rapids requiring precise maneuvers in turbulent water
Class V: ExpertLong, violent, obstructed, and unavoidable rapids needing complex routes and navigation
Class VI: Extreme and Exploratory RapidsRarely attempted runs with high danger, unpredictability, and difficulty
CleanClear of obstructions
ConfluenceThe point where two or more rivers meet
CurrentMoving water
DownstreamThe direction the river is flowing
Draw StrokePaddling technique to move the boat sideways towards an outstretched paddle
Drop/PitchAn abrupt descent in a river
Dry SuitA rubber suit that allows no water in for warmth
EddieWater flowing upstream behind an obstacle
FerryTo move sideways across a river without moving downstream
FlipTurning a boat upside down
FlotillaA group of boats together on a trip
FlowThe amount of water passing a single section in the river meased in volume per second
GuideThe person who steers and gives commands to the crew
High SideWhen hitting an obstacle sideways the side of the boat that gets elevated. Typically accomanied by jumping to the high side to prevent a flip
High WaterRiver flow above the average, which makes the current faster and rapids easier/harder depending on features
Lead BoatThe first boat in a flotilla, typically captained by the trip leader
Life JacketA personal floatation device
Low WaterRiver flow below the average, which makes more obstacles to technically maneuver
OarA pole with a blade connected to the boat used to row
PaddleA short pole not connected to a boat with a blade on one or both ends used to row
Paddle CommandsCommands used by the guide to communicate techniques to the crew during runs
PortageTo carry the boats on land
Pull/StrokeThe movement of the paddle to direct the boat
Put-InThe location with river access where the trip begins
Raft/BoatA buoyant boat used for floating
RapidWater flowing through a shallower, narrower, or steeper section of the river that causes whitewater
River RatingThe level of difficulty of a river (higher the harder)
River LeftThe left side of the river when facing downstream
River RightThe right side of the river when facing downstream
RunA river section that can be boated
Safety TalkA talk by the guide before the trip to learn river safety
ScoutTo stop and look at a rapid before running it
Setting SafetyCatching an eddie or going past a rapid to ensure safety of a boat behind you going through a rapid
StearnThe rear of the boat
Sweep BoatA boat rigged with first aid and rescue gear, typically the last boat in a flotilla
Swimmer's PositionSafest way to swim in a rapid. On back, feet up, arms to the side, facing downstream
Take-OutThe location with river access where the trip ends
Trip LeaderA guide designated to oversee multiple rafts of a trip
Agile BowA member of the crew assigned to get out on shore to hold the boat
Wrap/Hung UpA boat held against an object by the force of the current
Lean InShifting your weight towards the center of the raft to prevent falling out
LineA route through a rapid
Front PivotGoing from an orientation to a bow downstream orientation
Point PositiveThe direction that you are telling someone to go (never point negative)
PoolA calm portion of a river
Power FaceThe thicker surface of a paddle blade used to move the boat
ReadyEverything from the boat to the crew is prepared to go down the rapids
ReversalWhen water moves upstream or swirls in a rapid
Set Up SafetyWhen boats/people set up along a run to provide rescue support if needed
SneakTake an easy route around a difficult rapid
Section/StretchThe river portion located between two points
SwimmerA person who has falled out of a boat
Toss/Throw BagA rescue bag with a floating line in it that is thrown downstream of a swimmer
UpstreamThe opposite direction of the current
WaveA hump in flowing water
WhitewaterThe white, aerated water of rapids
Wet SuitA rubber suit that allows minimal water between the suit and skin to keep warm
Back RollerA wide rapid reversal
Boat AngleThe angle of the boat relative to the current
BoilA water current upwelling into a mound
BoofTo slide over an object, but not to nose dive
BroachMoving a boat perpendicular to the current
Carabiner/BinerA clip used to secure items into the boat
CartwheelingSpinng a raft around an object
CurlerA wave that falls back onto itselt upstream
DigTo paddle lower in the water to take advantage of stronger deep current
Dry Bag/Day BagA bag for keeping gear dry on the river (unless submerged)
Eddie CushionThe layer of water that pads the upstream face of obstructions
Eddie line/fenceThe location where the water flowing upstream passes the water flowing downstream
Eddie OutTo catch an eddie
Feathering a bladeOn a stroke return switching your blades orientation through the wind to make it easier
Flip lineA line used to turn a flipped boat up right
Foot CupShaped like a cup for the crew to put their feet into for leverage and support
FreeboardThe distance from the top of the raft to the water line
GateA narrow passage between obstacles
Ghost BoatPush the boat with no occupants through rapids
BeamThe width of a raft at its widest point
LateralsA wave or hole coming off an obstacle at an angle
Oar FrameA wood/metal frame of the raft to provide the basis for oar leverage
Oar RigA raft rigged with an oar frame to be rowed with oars
Paddle BoatA raft that is paddled and not rowed
Pool-DropA river type that has pools of calmer water in-between rapids
Standing Wave/HaystackA wave formed by obstacles on the river bottom causing the wave to stand still relative to the bank
Stern Rig/Paddle AssistA raft where the crew paddles sitting forward and the guide has a frame in the stern for oars
Strainer, SieveAn opening that water can flow through but not objets (boat or people) usually formed by trees or rocks
Stream GradientThe ratio of drop in elevation of a stream per horizontal distance
StrokemasterA member of the crew (or the guide) in charge of setting the cadence and timing for the whole crew
Z-DragA pulley system used to help free a boat from a wrap
KeeperA reversal that is strong enough to trap a raft for an extended period of time
Rooster TailWater crashing off an obstacle in a fan-shaped plume
SleeperAn obstacle just under the water surface creating no disturbance
Tail WavesStanding waves at the bottom of a rapid
TongueThe "V" shaped fast smooth water found at the head of rapids
UndercutWhen water flows under an obstacle or ledge
Wave TrainA spot with continuous waves
Hole/HydraulicWhen water flows over and down an obstacle and then back onto itself causing whitewater