Paddling Terminology - The Language of Rafting
Learn to Paddle a Raft with the Experts

The following are some common terms you may hear on a rafting trip with Whitewater Voyages. This is just a handy reference for your convenience, and is not intended to be a complete listing by any means. Many terms vary slightly from guide to guide, river to river. We also have a more detailed section on The Language of Whitewater Rafting, excerpted from William McGinnis' book, "The Guide's Guide Augmented."

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

  • River Features Lingo
  • Boat & Equipment Terminology
  • Trip Dynamics & Technique

River Features Lingo

Run A section of river that can be boated.
Put-In River access where a trip begins.
Take-Out River access where a trip ends.
Current Moving water.
River Right The right side of the river when facing downstream.
River Left The left side of the river when facing downstream.
Gradient The "steepness" of a river, measured in feet of elevation loss per mile of river.
River Rating A measure of the difficulty of a rapid or a river.
Flow The amount of water passing a point in the river, measured in Cubic Feet per Second (CFS).
High Water River flow above an expected average. Makes the currents faster. Some rapids get easier, others become more difficult.
Low Water Flows below an expected average. More rocks and obstacles may show, rapids become more technical.
Eddie Water flowing upstream behind a rock or other obstacle. Eddies often provide a safe place to get out of the current.
Eddie Line, Eddie Fence Where the water flowing upstream passes the water flowing downstream.
Rapid Where there's whitewater! Water flowing through a shallower, constricted, or steeper section forms a rapid.
Hole, Hydraulic Where water flowing over a rock or other obstacle flows down, then back onto itself in an eruption of whitewater.
Laterals A wave or hole peeling off an obstacle at an angle.
Standing Wave, Haystack A wave in a river formed by obstacles on the river bottom, where the wave stands still relative to the bank.
Strainer, Sieve An opening or openings where water can flow through, but a solid object such as a person or boat cannot. Usually formed by trees on the banks, or by rocks on top of one another with water flowing through them. One of the most dangerous river features.
Pool-Drop A type of river in which rapids are separated by calmer pools of water, sometimes more forgiving than continuous gradient rivers.

Boat and Equipment Terminology

Paddle A 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)
Paddle Boat A raft with a crew of paddlers and a guide.
Oar A long blade, attached to the boat by an oarlock on thole pin, and used to row.
Oar Rig A boat rigged with oars, so one person sitting in the center of the boat can row.
Stern Rig, Paddle Assist An oar/paddle boat, in which the guide has oars and frame in the stern, and the crew, sitting forward, has paddles. Ofen used on high water.
Bow The front of the boat.
Stern The rear of the boat.
Duckie, Inflatable Kayak, Funyak, Splashyak A one or two person inflatable boat, usually paddled with double bladed paddles.
Cataraft An inflatable boat with two pontoons.
Solo Cat A one-person cataraft paddled with a double-bladed paddle.
Hoopi Tubular webbing used for multiple purposes in rigging and preparing boats.
Carabiner A clip, used to secure items into the boat, and to construct safety and rescue systems.
Wet Suit A neoprene rubber suit which allows a small amount of water in, to help retain body heat.
Dry Suit A suit designed to keep all water out, under which any amount of layered clothing can be worn.
Dry Bag, Day Bag A bag for keeping gear in on the river, to help keep things dry (but probably not 100%)
Life Jacket A personal floatation device, coast guard approved, and worn like a vest.

Trip Dynamics and Technique

Guide The person who steers the boat down the river, giving paddle commands to the crew (paddle captain), or rowing person (oars person).
Trip Leader A Guide designated to oversee the smooth running of a trip.
Head Chef A guide who plans the menu for the trip, purchases the food, and helps prepare the meals with the other guides.
Paddle Captain The guide in a paddle boat.
Paddle Commands Commands used by the guide to communicate to the crew. Some more commonly used commands are: Forward paddle, Back paddle, Left Turn, Left Back, Right Turn, Right Back and Stop.
Strokemaster A member of the crew, usually in the bow, appointed by the guide to set the cadence, or timing for the whole crew. If everyone follows the strokemaster, the crew will be efficient and work together.
Agile Bow A member of the paddle crew who is assigned to get out on shore and hold the boat.
Flotilla A group of boats together on a trip.
Lead Boat The first boat in the flotilla, often captained by the trip leader.
Sweep Boat A boat rigged with first aid, safety and rescue gear which usually runs last in the flotilla.
Scout To stop and look at a rapid before running it.
Setting Safety Catching an eddie, or hiking down the river, past a rapid to be there for the safety of a boat about to come through the rapid.
Portage To carry the boats around a rapid, necessary around Class VI rapids and other obstacles.
Boat Angle The angle of the boat relative to the current.
Ferry To cross a current or river, without moving downstream.
Flip The boat turned upside down by a wave, a rock, or other mishap.
Wrap A boat held against a rock or other object by the force of the current.
Z-Drag A pulley system used to give a mechanical advantage when trying to free a boat from a "wrap"
High Side The necessary act of jumping to the "high side" of your raft when coming up against an obstacle sideways. Always jump downstream, towards the side nearest the rock or obstacle. When executed properly, it can help prevent a wrap or a flip.
Swimmer A person who has fallen out of a boat.
Safety Talk A talk which precedes every trip, in which paddlers learn about safety on the river.
Swimmer's Position Often the safest way to "swim" in a river or rapid. Feet up in front of you, toes visible on the surface, facing downstream, arms out to the sides for stability and to scull to move across the current (See "Self Rescue").
Self Rescue When overboard, actively either swimming back to the boat or toward shore (which even seems best) to rescue yourself.
Gorp A trail mix used as a high energy snack food on the river.

" 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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Whitewater Voyages
11252 Kernville Road, Kernville, CA 93238
Call Toll Free: 800-400-7238
The Leader in California White Water Rafting Trips Since 1975

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