The Language of Whitewater Rafting
Talk Lingo like the Guides do!

In the world of white water, the language of river guides is universal - from the rivers of Costa Rica to Africa to Latin America. Here is some of our favorite "guide lingo" with which you can test - and expand - your knowledge:

This glossary, from William McGinnis' book, The Guide's Guide Augmented - which is the Whitewater Voyages staff manual - is more detailed and specific than our Whitewater Glossary for the Casual Paddler.

For a sampling of the on-and-off-river games and activities we sometimes play on the river check out: Whitewater Voyage's River Games

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ABC's: Airway, Breathing, Circulation. The first three things one checks when providing first aid.
Above: Upriver from.
Agile bow: A member of the paddle crew who is assigned the role of jumping out on shore and holding the boat. It is often helpful to carefully teach agile bow people to, first, stow their paddle, second, grab the bow line, and, third, jump onto the bank, preferably just as or before the boat touches the bank, not after it has bounced away. As obvious as this seems, many people, without instruction, will jump out without the line-or with both the line and their paddle, which can get in the way and trip them up.
Alluvial: Pertaining to material carried or laid down by running water. Alluvium is the material deposited by streams. It includes gravel, sand, silt, and clay.
Alluvial listening: Listening to someone without judgment or criticism and attending so closely that you can repeat back in your own words what is said. Attentive, caring listening is a living, guiding and leadership skill of fundamental importance, and this sort of focused, non-judgmental listening may be the greatest, most healing gift any human being can give another. Sometimes also called river listening.
Back pivot: Turning the raft from a ferry angle to a stern-downstream orientation. Used in tight places to recover from an extreme ferry angle, this maneuver narrows the passing width of the boat and allows it to slide closely past obstructions.
Back roller: A broad reversal such as that formed below a dam or ledge.
Back row: The pull stroke on an oar boat. Because it uses the legs, arms and back, the back row tends to be stronger than the push stroke, which uses mainly the arms and stomach. Also see Galloway position.
Baffle: A diaphragm which divides the interior of a raft's perimeter tube into separate air chambers.
Bar: An accumulation of sand, gravel, or rock in the river channel or along the banks.
Basket boat: A military-surplus raft constructed of an upper and a lower buoyancy tube; the upper tube flares outward, giving the boat a bowl-or basket-like appearance.
Beam: The width of a raft at its widest point.
Belay: To wrap a line around a rock, tree, carabiner or figure eight to slow or stop slippage. This technique allows one person to hold a line under great pull. A 360 degree wrap around a tree with bark, by the way, can provide a 100% belay.
Below: Downriver from.
Bend: A type of knot used to join two lines. Also, a curve in a river.
Bight: A doubled or folded over section of rope.
Big water: Large volume, fast current, big waves, often accompanied by huge reversals and extreme general turbulence. Also see "high water."
Biner: Short for carabiner, which means "clip" in Italian. In rafting, biners are used in rope and pulley rescue systems, to secure things to a raft and as items of adornment in river guide apparel. Also see carabiner.
Blade: The wide, flat part of an oar or paddle.
Boat: Raft. These words are interchangeable.
Boater: Rafter. Also, anyone in a kayak, canoe, etc.
Boat angle: The angle of the boat relative to the current.
Boil: A water current upwelling into a convex mound.
Boil line: The line below vertical-drop reversals above which the surface current moves back upriver into the falls and below which the surface current moves off down river. Also called a "boil zone" because often this "line" is a broad zone of white, bubbling, upwelling water much of which is merely "boiling" in place while some is moving upriver and some downriver.
Boof: To slide over rocks and off drops in such a way that the boat does not nose dive, but instead lands more level with the bottom down. Landing level keeps the boat more up on the surface compared with landing nose down and diving deep. Kayakers, as they go over drops, can boofby leaning back to lift the bow. In rafts this is generally done by emptying the bow compartment and moving everyone toward the rear of the boat. Boofing also refers to deliberately sliding up on to and then easing back off of, big, smooth, sloped, ramp-like rocks rising up out of the river.
Booties: Neoprene wet suit foot wear to keep your feet warm.
Boulder fan: A sloping, fan-shaped mass of boulders deposited by a tributary stream where it enters into the main canyon. These often constrict the river, causing rapids.
Boulder garden: A rapid densely peppered with boulders that necessitate intricate maneuvering.
Bow: Front or nose of a boat. See Galloway position.
Bow In: Same as bow on. With bow pointed forward and the overall boat perpendicular, squared off or "Tee'd" off to holes and waves.
Bowline: A line tied to the row of a raft. Also, a type of knot.
Bow on: See bow in.
Brace: Using one's paddle to stay in a raft or prevent a flip.
Breaking wave: A wave which falls back on its upstream face.
Broach: To turn a boat broadside to the current. Usually spells certain upset in heavy water.
Capsize: Said of a knot which collapses, changes form, weakens and slips. Also used to describe a raft flip.
Carabiner: Also called a "biner." A "D" or oval-shaped clip used to secure items into a boat and to construct safety and rescue systems. For rescue systems use only high quality mountaineering carabiners, and avoid the low-quality, hardware store variety, which can break and cause rescue systems to fly through the air with potentially lethal force.
Cartwheeling: Technique of spinning a raft just before a collision with a rock so as to rotate the raft off and around the rock.
Cataraft: A catamaran-like inflatable boat with two parallel tubes or pontoons.
Cat's paw: A ruffling of the water's surface caused by a gust of wind. Can appear from a distance as a darkening of the river's surface.
CFS: See cubic feet per second.
Channel: A deeper route through a section of river.
Chute: A channel between obstructions, usually steeper and faster than the surrounding water.
Classification: Difficulty rafting. Also see river rating.
Clean: Clear of obstructions. Said of a route or line through a rapid.
Confluence: The point where two or more rivers meet. North American Indians were onto something in honoring these places of powerful natural energy.
Cubic feet per second: Also called cubes, cfs and second feet. A unit of water flow used to indicate the volume of water flowing per second past any given point along a river. This number takes on far more meaning when used as a basis for comparison after one has become familiar with a variety of flows on a number of rivers.
Curler: A high, steep wave that curls or falls back onto its own upstream face. Considered by most to be a form of reversal. Also see reversal.
Current: Moving water.
Cushion: See eddy cushion or pillow.
Cushion off of: To use an eddy cushion to prevent a boat from hitting an object, often by initiating a pivot.
Day bag: A dry bag that is kept accessible during the day.
Diaphragm: See baffle.
Dig: Plunge paddle blades deep to grab the stronger downstream current well below the surface. Often initiated by the captain calling something like, "Dig! Dig!! Hard Forward! Dig!!! Dig!!!". This technique can be effective in powering rafts through large holes especially when used by the two bow paddlers just as the boat hits the holes.
Double-oar turn: Rowing technique used to turn (or to prevent the turning of) a raft. Consists of simultaneously pulling on one oar while pushing on the other.
Downstream: In the direction of a river's flow, downriver.
Downstream angle: A boat's angle to the current when it is being rowed or paddled downstream faster than the current.
Downstream ferry: Rowing or paddling downstream at an angle to and faster than the current, often to punch across an eddy line.
Draw stroke: Paddling technique of moving a boat sideways toward the paddle. To do a draw stroke, reach straight out perpendicular from the raft, and with the blade to the boat and plunged deep, pull the paddle straight in to the raft.
D-ring: Metal, D-shaped ring attached to a raft and used to secure frames, lines, rope thwarts, etc.
Drop: An abrupt descent in a river. A pitch.
Dry bag: A bag for keeping gear dry on the river. To keep contents 100% dry, a tightly sealed inner liner bag is usually needed.
Dry suit: A suit designed to keep all water out, under which any amount of layered, insulating clothing can be worn.
Duckie: Also referred to as an inflatable kayak, funyak, and splashyak. A one or two person inflatable boat, usually paddled with double bladed paddles.
Easy-rower washer: Large plastic, rubber, or metal washer placed between the oar and frame to reduce friction.
Eddy: A place where the current either stops or turns to head upstream. Found below obstructions which rise above the river's surface, outjuttings of bank, and on the inside of bends.
Eddy cushion: The layer of slack or billowing water that pads the upstream face of rocks and other obstructions. See pillow.
Eddy fence: The often sharp boundary at the edge of an eddy between two currents of different velocity or direction. Usually marked by swirling water and bubbles. Also called an eddy line and an eddy wall.
Eddy out: To catch an eddy.
Falls: A drop over which the water falls free at least part of the way.
Fan rock: A rock in a river which throws up a fan-shaped plume of water. See rooster tail.
Farmer John: A wet suit which, like bib overalls, extends from ankles to shoulders. See wet suit.
Feathering a blade: On the return, knifing an oar or paddle blade through the air. This can make a significant difference when dealing with headwinds.
Ferry: A maneuver for moving a boat laterally across a current. Usually accomplished by rowing or paddling upstream at an angle to the current. See also reverse ferry.
Figure eight: A figure-eight-shaped device used in climbing and rescue work to belay, that is, slow or stop, the paying out of a line. Also, a wonderful, beloved, very functional family of knots.
Flat webbing: Single ply webbing too weak for rescue work.
Flip: When a boat is turned upside down by an encounter with a wave, a rock, or other mishap.
Flip line: A line used to turn a flipped boat right side up. These may be tied across a boat's bottom, worn as a belt around a guide's waist or stuffed toss-bag style in small bags and hung at a boat's sides.
Flood Plain: That portion of a river valley, adjacent to the river channel, which is built of sediments deposited by the river and which is covered with water when the river overflows its banks at flood stages.
Flotilla: A group of boats together on a trip.
Foot cup: Shaped somewhat like the front half of a shoe and attached to the floor of a raft, these fabric/rubber "cups" can help rafters stay in the boat. Also called toe cups and foot cones.
Freeboard: The distance from the water line to the top of the buoyancy tube.
Galloway Position: Basic orientation for oar boats: the rower faces the bow, which is pointed downstream. This allows the guide to look directly and continuously at the rapid, and to back ferry left or right by first "facing the danger", that is, angling the bow toward the side he or she wants to pull away from, and then using the powerful pull stroke (which utilizes the arms, back and legs) to both move the boat laterally away from the danger and slow the boat relative to the current, thereby providing more time to make the move.
Gate: Narrow, short passage between two obstacles.
Ghost Boat: To push a boat out into the current and let it float through a rapid empty. Do this only in rapids in which the boat will not hang up mid way through, and which have a good boat recovery point below-such as a narrow passage where the current drives all boats close to the bank.
Gorp: A trail mix, often including M&M's, raisins and nuts, used as a high energy snack food on the river.
Gradient: The slope or steepness of a river expressed in the number of feet the river drops per mile.
G.Rig: Three pontoons lashed together side by side. Invented by and named for Georgie White, this floating island is suitable only for big rivers like the Frazer River in British Columbia or the Colorado of Cataract Canyon and the Grand Canyon.
Grip: The extreme upper end of a single-bladed paddle, shaped for holding with the palm over the top. T-grips are best because they can also be used as hooks.
Guide: The person who steers the boat down the river, giving paddle commands to the crew as paddle captain or rowing as oars person.
Hair: Fast, extremely turbulent water covered with white, aerated foam.
Hanging Tributary: A tributary stream that enters a main canyon over a waterfall. The tributary canyon mouth is on the wall of the main canyon rather than at river level.
Haystack: A large standing wave caused by deceleration of current.
Heightened Awareness: The shift toward a more vivid, alive and energized way of seeing and experiencing that tends to happen on river trips, especially trips infused with an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation. A sort of "predictable miracle" on good trips.
Head Chef: A guide who plans the menu for the trip, purchases the food, and helps prepare the meals with the other guides.
High Float Life Jacket: A life jacket with 22 or more pounds floatation. Always a good idea and essential on high water.
High Side: The necessary act of jumping to the "high side" when coming up against an obstacle sideways. Always jump downstream, towards the rock or obstacle. When executed properly, this can help prevent a wrap or a flip.
High Water: River flow well above normal. Makes currents faster and some waves and holes bigger. Obstacles, such as rocks and holes, although fewer in number, tend to be more dangerous if hit. Some rapids get easier, others become more difficult. In extreme high water, the current can sweep through strainers on either bank, enormous holes can appear and one rapid can blend into the next.
Hitch: A type of knot which ties a rope to a ring, pole, tree, rock or other object.
Hole: A reversal. This term is generally applied to reversals of less than river-wide width. Also see souse hole.
Hoopi: Half-inch or 5/8th-inch diameter tubular nylon webbing put to a thousand and one uses in rafting. As far as we know, no one knows for sure the origin of this name, although it may refer to the use of similar webbing to make hoops in mountain climbing. Most often used in the phrase, "Got any hoopi?" Important note: Hoopi is valuable, important, even vital river gear. Take care not to leave it behind on river beaches, or let it blow away out of rafts on roof racks and trailers, or otherwise lose it or let it "walk away."
House boulder: A house-sized boulder.
Hung up: Said of a raft that is caught on but not wrapped around a rock or other obstacle.
Hydraulics: A general term for reversals, eddies, and powerful waves which can slow, change or accelerate a boat's speed and route through a rapid.
Hypothermia: A serious physical condition caused by a lowering of the core body temperature. Symptoms include lack of coordination, slurred speech, blueness of skin, dilation of pupils, decrease in heart and respiratory rate, extreme weakness, uncontrolled shivering, irrationality, apathy, and/or belligerence. Victims often become unconscious and sometimes die. When the air plus water temperature add up to less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, take full precautions to prevent hypothermia including wearing wet or dry suits plus warm hats and lots of extra warm clothing, doing lots of warm-up games, providing a big hot fire and high energy food, and administering hot soup or juice. First aid for river hypothermia: Quickly strip off wet clothes, put in warm, dry clothes, and apply heat by building a fire, surrounding victim skin-to-skin in a bare-body sandwich; administering hot drink, etc.
Inflatable Kayak: see Duckie
J-rig: A pontoon-sized raft formed by joining several giant snout-nosed sponsons.
Keeper: A reversal capable of trapping a raft for long periods. Similar to, but more powerful than, a stopper.
Kernmantle: A type of line consisting of a central core of continuous parallel fibers covered by a woven sheath. Considered the beat type of line for rescue work.
Knot-passing pulley: A pulley with oversized interior clearance to allow knots to pass through it.
Krusing "with a K": Spurring a paddle crew on with vigorously repeated commands mixed in with fun energizing phrases as in "Forward! Forward!! Gotta get there! Gotta get there!!" and "Back paddle!! Back paddle!! Need ya now!! Need ya NOW!!" This captaining style is so named because it was honed to a fine art by legendary Whitewater Voyages and Zoar class V guide, Barry Kruse (pronounced just like "cruise").
Laterals: A wave or hole peeling off an obstacle (such as a boulder or out jutting of bank) at an angle. In high or big water these can become major obstacles which sometimes flip boats or shunt, deflect or surf them into inconvenient places such as holes and strainers. One strategy for navigating big laterals is to use a downstream ferry to accelerate into and slice squarely through the uppermost end.
Lawn-chair position: Sometimes the safest way to ride out a rapid: Swimmers face downstream with feet out in front, toes visible on the surface, buttocks as high as possible, and arms out to the sides for stability and to scull to move across the current. As soon as it is safe to do so, swimmers should self rescue, that is, swim hard for the boat or shore, whichever seems best. Also see self rescue.
Lead boat: The first boat in the flotilla, often captained by the trip leader. Generally, no boat in the group passes the lead boat.
Lean In: At the sound of this call, crew members shift their weight in over the boat so that if they lose their balance, they will fall into, rather than out of, the boat.
Learning opportunity: A positive aspect of mishaps and mistakes (in rafting and in life in general) is that they can be valuable learning opportunities.
Ledge: The exposed edge of a rock stratum that acts as a low natural dam or as a series of such dams.
Left bank: Left side of the river when facing downstream. See river left.
Life jacket: A personal floatation device worn like a vest. All jackets should be coast guard approved. Also, for whitewater boating, high floatation of 22 or more Ibs. buoyancy and bright colors like yellow or orange visible under water in the event of an entrapment and recommended.
Line: A route through a rapid. Also, in another context, a rope.
Low siding: Moving people to the low side of a boat, usually to squeeze through a narrow channel.
Low water: Flows well below an expected average. Low water is generally characterized by slower current and more rocks, often with tight chutes and channels. The good news is obstacles come at you more slowly, giving you more time to maneuver and, if hit, are less devastating than in higher flows. With strong teamwork, precision timing, skillful maneuvering and upbeat, high-energy guiding, low-water rafting can be a ton of fun.
Major axis: The long, strong dimension of a carabiner. Major loads placed on carabiners should be in line with this long dimension.
Making time downriver: A method of increasing downstream speed by using downstream angles, avoiding eddies and staying in the strongest jet of the current. Also see downstream angle.
Meander: A loop-like bend in the course of a river.
Minor axis: The short, weaker dimension of a carabiner. Major loads should not be applied in this direction.
"Nice looking rubber": One of the higher compliments that can be paid a raft.
Oar: A long, stout pole with blade on the end, attached to the boat with an oarlock or thole pin, and used to row. Note: An oar is not a paddle.
Oar clip: A piece of resilient metal in the shape of a pinched U that is used to hold an oar to the thole pin.
Oar frame: Same as a rowing frame.
Oar rig: A boat rigged with oars, and controlled by one person sitting on a rowing frame.
Oar rubber: A piece of thick rubber used to hold an oar to a thole pin.
Outfit: The articles and methods used to fit out, or rig, a raft for river running. For example, the outfit of an oar raft includes a rowing frame, oars, the method of securing the frame to the raft, the method of securing the gear to the frame, etc. The outfit of a paddle raft include paddles, perhaps a thwart ditty bag, and so on. The term may also be used to refer to any commercial rafting company.
Paddle: A canoe-type paddle held in the hands, not attached to the boat, used to paddle. Can be single-bladed (for rafting and canoeing) or double-bladed (for kayaking, solo cats, inflatable kayaks). Note: A paddle is not an oar.
Paddle boat: A raft with a crew of paddlers and guide.
Paddle captain: The guide in a paddle boat. Although they do use commands, more gifted practitioners of this multifaceted art, rather than be called captains, might be more aptly thought of as nurturing teachers and motivational, cheerleading, inspirational, outreaching mentors.
Paddle commands: Calls used by a paddle captain to maneuver a paddle boat: Forward, back paddle, right turn, left turn, draw left, draw right, stop. "Right turn" means the right side back paddles as the left side paddles forward; and "left turn" means vice versa. Note: A huge advantage of using "right turn" and "left turn" in this way is that "right back" , "right forward" , "left back" and "left forward" can then be used to mean only the side indicated does the stroke indicated, allowing finesse and precision of maneuver!
Painter: A line, usually about 20 feet long, attached to the bow of paddle rafts and the stern of oar rafts. Not to be confused with the much longer bow and stern lines.
Pan caking: In a triple-rig or threesome raft, when the bow boat flips back onto the middle boat. Also, any inadvertent stacking of one boat on top of another.
Park: In a generally steep walled canyon, a wide, level place adjacent to the river with grass and trees, often found at the mouths of tributaries.
Piggyback Rig: A rope and pulley rescue system which quadruples a group's strength. Used to unwrap boats off of mid river rocks, etc. Also called a pig rig.
Pillow: The layer of slack water that pads the upstream face of rocks and other obstructions. The broader the upstream face, the more ample the pillow. Also called an eddy cushion or, simply, a cushion.
Pitch: A section of a rapid steeper than the surrounding portions; a drop.
Pivot: Turning the raft from a ferry angle to a bow-downstream orientation to the current. This narrows the passing width of the boat, allowing it to slide closely past obstructions. Sometimes called a front pivot.
Point positive: The custom when using river signals to always point in the direction you want someone to go, and never in the direction you don't want them to go.
Pontoon: An inflatable boat 22 feet long or larger. These big rafts usually have 3-foot tubes and 9 foot beams and range in length from 22 to 37 feet.
Pool: A deep and quiet stretch of river.
Pool-drop: A type of river in which rapids are separated by calmer pools of water, sometimes more forgiving than continuous gradient rivers.
Portage: To carry the boats around a rapid. This is necessary to circumvent Class VI rapids and other obstacles.
Portagee: A style of rowing once used by Portuguese fishermen, moving a boat forward by pushing on the oars.
"The position": In an oar boat, assuming "the position" means the guide braces the oar handles high and somewhat forward at arm's length to hold the blades down as deep as possible. Like digging in a paddle boat, this action can grab the downstream current below the surface to pull a boat through big holes and reversals.
Power face: The surface of an oar or paddle blade which normally pulls against the current.
Prusik: A knot which slides along a rescue line when loose, but grips when tight. Also, a loop dedicated to tying prusiks.
Prusik-minding pulley: See self-tending pulley.
Pry stroke: Paddling technique of moving a boat sideways away from the paddle. Effective only with small, light rafts.
Put-in: River access where a trip begins. R1, R2, etc. A raft with one paddler, two paddles, etc.
Quality: Good. Used as in "That's quality!"
Rapid: A fast, turbulent stretch of river, often with obstructions, but usually without an actual waterfall. The four causes of rapids are steepness, roughness and constriction of the riverbed and sheer water volume. Anyone or any combination of these four factors can cause a rapid. Contrary to common misconception, only the plural takes an "s."
Ready: As in the phrase, "my boat is ready," this is a technical term with a precise meaning: the boat is untied and all lines are coiled and up off the floor; the training talk is complete; all gear is clipped or tied on; each crew member is in his or her place with life jacket fastened and paddle in hand; in short, the boat is truly ready to pull out at a moment's notice.
Rescue position: Getting into "rescue position" is the same as "setting up safety."
Reversal: A place where the current swings upward and revolves back on itself, forming a treacherous meeting of currents that can drown swimmers and slow, swamp, trap, or flip rafts. Some reversals take the form of flat, foamy, surface back flows immediately below large obstructions just under the surface, while others consist of steep waves that curl heavily back onto their own upstream faces. Reversals are also called hydraulics, stoppers, keepers, white eddies, roller waves, back rollers, curlers, side curlers, souse holes, and, most frequently, holes. Although some of these terms are used loosely to refer to any sort of reversal, others carry more precise shades of meaning and refer to certain types of reversals. Each of these terms is discussed separately in this glossary.
Reverse ferry: A rowing technique whereby the oarsman rows diagonally downstream for a short distance so as to power stern first, often into an eddy. With a heavy raft, this technique sometimes provides the only means of entering an eddy. Also called a downstream ferry.
Rime: A shallow rapid with very small waves, often over a sand or gravel bottom. Does not rate a grade on either the Western or the International scale of difficulty.
Right bank: Right side of the river when facing downstream. See also River Right.
River left: Left side of the river when facing downstream.
River listening: A skill of fundamental importance in guiding and life. Also see alluvial listening.
River rating: A measure of the difficulty of a rapid or a river.
River right: Right side of the river when facing downstream.
Rock garden: A rapid thickly strewn with exposed or partially covered rocks that demand intricate maneuvering.
Roller wave: A reversal. This term is used variously to mean curler and back roller. Rooster tail: A fan-shaped plume of water exploding off of a submerged obstacle.
Rowing frame: A rigid frame that provides a seat for the oars person and allows the raft to be controlled by long oars. Also called oar frames, rowing frames often also serve as racks for gear.
Run: A section of river that can be boated.
Runout: One or more jets of current shooting off downstream from the bottom of a rapid or drop, often found where the water speed gradually peters out. These jets of runout are key features to consider in reading a rapid or drop from above. Because drops and steep rapids tend to be hidden from above by an intermediate horizon line, boaters approaching from upstream learn to look beyond the horizon line at the jets of surface runout. The deepest, clearest channels through the rapid or drop will generally be found directly upstream from the biggest jets of runout.
Safety boat: In high water, highly maneuverable lead boats such as stern-rigs, big catarafts and kayaks with very experienced guides which provide a downstream safety net for a group of boats. Also, boats waiting midway and at the base of rapids to provide rescue support for boats coming through. Also see set up safety.
Safety talk: A talk which precedes every trip, in which trip members learn about safety on the river.
Sandpaper: Small choppy waves over shallows.
Scout: To examine a rapid from shore.
Section: A portion of river located between two points; a stretch.
Set up safety: Position toss bag throwers and/or rescue boats at key points along and/or below a rapid to provide rescue support for boats coming through.
Self-rescue: Instead of merely floating along in "lawn-chair position," actively participating in one's own rescue by swimming hard for the boat or shore, whichever seems best.
Self-tending pulley: A pulley with square corners which prevent prosik knots from getting jammed against it. Particularly handy when used as the anchor pulley in Z-rigs.
Shaft: The pole which connects the blade and the handle of an oar or paddle.
Shorty pontoon: A 22-to 25-foot pontoon. Also see pontoon.
Shuttle: The process of moving vehicles from the put-in to the take-out or trip members in the reverse direction. This can be accomplished by driving at least two vehicles to the take-out and one back to the put-in, by hiring drivers, or by using a charter flight service. Or you can hitchhike with a sign reading: RIVER RAFTING-NEED RIDE UPRIVER.
Side curler: A reversal parallel to the main current, formed by a side current passing over a rock as it enters the main channel.
Skills board: Teaching aids used in guide schools which provide hands on practice in various knot tying and swiftwater rescue skills.
Sleeper: Submerged rock or boulder just below the surface, usually marked by little or no surface disturbance.
Smoker: An extremely violent rapid; hair.
Sneak: To take an easy route around a difficult spot. Often takes the form of maneuvering down one side of a big rapid in order to avoid the turbulence in the I center.
Solo cat: A one-person cataraft paddled with a double-bladed paddle.
Souse hole: A hole found below an underwater obstruction, such as a boulder. This term usually refers to holes of narrow or moderate width that have water pouring in not only from the upstream and downstream directions but also from, the sides.
Sponsons: Enormous inflatable tubes mounted alongside pontoons for added stability.
Sportyak: A one-man, 7-foot rowboat of rigid plastic with spray shields jutting up from bow and stem.
Squirt rafting: Accelerating into (safe) eddies and just before crossing the eddy line, jumping onto the boat's low, leading side or end to make it dive and take in water. Even when performed in deep, clear eddies where it is OK to swim, squirt rafting is inherently risky and generally not recommended.
Stabilizing surface blow through: In some big holes, the white, aerated surface flow which blasts in at an incline and blasts on through. In many big holes where the water is entering at an incline (and not plunging in vertically) some of the water explodes in place and rotates back on itself, while some blasts on through. In many cases, the more surface water blasting on through, the more runnable the hole.
Stage marker: A gauge placed along a river shoreline that is calibrated in feet or fractions thereof starting from an arbitrary zero point. With appropriate conversion information, these readings may be converted into cfs or, more important, raft-ability ratings.
Staircase: A stretch of river where the water pours over a series of drops that resemble a staircase.
Standing wave: A wave caused by the deceleration of current that occurs when faster-moving water slams into slower-moving water, creating a pile of water, a standing wave. Unlike ocean waves, which sweep forward while the water in them remains relatively still, merely rising and falling in place, these waves stand in a fixed position while the water washes through them. The height of these waves is measured vertically from the trough to the crest.
Static line: A line designed to have minimum stretch under load. Only static "minimum-sketch" line (and not "dynamic" climbing line) should be used in rescue pulley systems, because static line reduces the potential, if some part of the system were to fail, of the entire system snapping back through the air with lethal force like a giant rubber band. Even static line, however, stretches somewhat and can snap back, so systems should be dampened with full water bottles, and other precautions should be taken-also - see Part 5: Rescue of the Whitewater Voyages staff manual, The Guide's Guide Augmented by William McGinnis.
Stern: Rear of a boat.
Stern rig: Also called a stern rig/paddle assist. An oar/paddle boat, in which the guide has oars and a frame in the stern, and the crew, sitting forward, has paddles. Often used for extra maneuverability on high water.
Stopper: A reversal powerful enough to stop a raft momentarily-or longer. Also called a stopper wave. Also see Keeper.
Strainer: Brush, fallen trees, bridge pilings, or anything else that allows the current to sweep through but pins boats and boaters. One of the most dangerous river features. Also called a sieve.
Stretch: A portion of river located between two points; a section.
The Strokes: The two bow paddlers who, following the captain's calls, match strokes with one another and set a paddling pace that is followed by the rest of the crew. When the entire crew paddles together, they avoid banging paddles, the boat lunges with each stroke, and, most important, everyone looks sharp. This term can also refer to the various paddle strokes used in rafting such as "forward", "back paddle", "draw" and "pry".
Strong, economical guiding style: A widely-used core method of guiding characterized by strong angles (between 45 and 90 degrees to the current), quick turns and using as few strokes as possible to achieve the desired results.
Sweep boat: A boat rigged with first aid, safety and rescue gear which usually runs last in the flotilla.
Sweep oar: A large oar extending over the bow or stern, commonly with the blade angled at the throat.
Sweep stroke: A turn stroke in which the blade is swept in an arc, often around a "corner" of the stern or bow.
Swimmer: In rafting, a person who has fallen out of a boat.
Tail waves: Standing waves at the bottom of a rapid.
Take-out: River access where a trip ends.
Technical: A term used to describe rapids which contain many obstacles and require a great deal of maneuvering.
T-grip: A T-shaped paddle handle. Placing the inboard palm over the top of a T-grip allows a paddler to easily control the blade angle. Also, T-grips make handy hooks.
Thole pin: An upright steel pin on a rowing frame that serves as a fulcrum, or pivot point, for the oar. Uncapped pins are used with oar rubbers, while capped pins, which are far safer, are used with oar clips.
Threesome raft: Three rafts lashed together side by side. Also see C-rig.
Throat: On an oar or paddle, the point where the shaft meets the blade.
Thwarts: Tubes which run across, or "athwart", the middle of a raft.
Tongue: The smooth "V" of fast water found at the head of rapids.
Toss bag: Also called a throw bag and rescue bag. A toss bag is a football-sized bag stuffed with floating line. The thrower, or rescuer, holds one end of the line and, usually with an underhand throw, tosses the bag, generally, to swimmers in a rapid. As the bag sails through the air, the line plays out, so that the bag lands light and empty-hopefully with the line within arms reach of the swimmer on the downstream side. Because a swimmer in the water will tend to move faster than a line floating on the surface, throw toss bags downstream, rather than upstream, of swimmers.
Trim: The angle to the water at which a boat rides. The crew and gear should be positioned so that the boat is level from side to side, and slightly heavier in the bow than in the stem.
Trip leader: A guide designated to oversee the smooth running of a trip.
Triple-rig: Same as Threesome Raft.
Tube stand: When an inflatable raft stands up vertically on one tube and then drops back down right side up.
Tubular webbing: Nylon webbing tightly woven in a tube shape. Generally used flat, it is in effect a hollow, two-ply weave, with great strength for its size.
Undercut: An overhanging rock or ledge with current flowing under it. Swimmers and boats should avoid these dangerous obstacles.
Upstream: The direction whence a river flows. The direction opposite that of the current.
Upstream angle: The angle of a boat which is being paddled or rowed in an upstream direction, and, hence, is moving more slowly than the current.
Upstream ferry: A regular ferry, in which a boat's upstream end is angled toward the bank it wants to approach, and the. boat is paddled or rowed in an upstream direction, slowing the boat in relation to the current and moving it sideways in relation to the river.
Vee: These come in two flavors, upstream and downstream. A downstream vee (i.e. the point is downstream) indicates the main flow of the current is passing between two obstructions. Generally speaking, the middle of the vee will have smooth, flat water moving at high speed; this is sometimes called the "tongue". Upstream vees indicate the presence of an obstruction at the point of the vee; they usually also indicate the presence of an eddy just downstream from the obstruction.
Wave: A hump or bump in flowing water.
Wave train: A row of standing waves. Big, long wave trains provide wonderful roller-coaster-like rides, a rafting highlight!
Wet suit: A close-fitting garment of neoprene foam that provides thermal insulation in cold water. A popular style for rafting is the "Farmer John," which extends from ankles to shoulders and in cold weather is worn with a paddle jacket and extra layers of fleece, pile, capilene or wool. Shorties, which extend from thighs to shoulders, are sometimes used in warmer weather. Many guides wear a pair of shorts over their wet suit to protect the wet suit and reduce the tendency to slide around on the raft. I recommend shorts with a no-slip butt patch.
White eddy: A reversal below a ledge or other underwater obstruction characterized by a foamy back flow at the surface.
Whitewater: The white, bubbly, aerated water of rapids, hence, rapids in general-and fun!
Wild thing: A technique for freeing a boat hung up on a rock which involves the entire crew jumping around like wild monkeys.
Wrapped: Said of a raft pinned around the upstream face of a rock or other obstruction by the current. Boats so pinned are often held in place by tons of force.
X Do you know of a whitewater rafting term starting with X ?

Yoke: A modified thwart used as a shoulder rest to carry a canoe.
Z-rig: A rope and pulley system which triples a group's strength. Used for unwrapping boats off mid-river rocks, etc. Also called a Z-drag. See "piggyback rig".

" I recently went to Whitewater Voyages' Guide School on the American River. What a life-changing experience! Bill McGinnis is a brilliant teacher and a kind soul. I wish everyone I know could get a chance to talk with him. His staff of instructors are knowledgable and supportive. They work their tails off to help everyone learn as much as they can. One great week in my life! "
- Mo
Sacramento, California

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