Whitewater Rafting Glossary
A more detailed and specific glossary than the lingo for the casual paddler.
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 "guide lingo" with which you can test - and expand - your knowledge:
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.
Back Pivot: Turning the raft from a ferry angle to a stem-downstream position. Used in tight places to recover from an extreme ferry angle, this maneuver narrows the passing space of the boat and allows it to slide closely past obstructions.
Backroller: A broad reversal such as that formed below a dam or ledge.
Bar: An accumulation of sand, gravel, or rock in the river channel or along the banks.
Basket Boat: A 15-foot 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 or tree so as to slow or stop Slippage. This technique allows one man to hold a line under great pull.
Below: Downriver from.
Big Water: Large Volume, fast current, big waves, often accompanied by huge reversals and extreme general turbulence. The terms big water and heavy water are closely similar, but big water carries stronger suggestions of immense volume and extreme violence.
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.
Boat/Raft: These words are interchangeable.
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 downriver. 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 lands level with the bottom down. Landing level keeps the boat up on the surface compared with landing nose down and diving deep. Kayakers, as they go over drops, can boof by 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. Also refers to deliberately sliding up on to and then easing back off, big, smooth, sloped ramp-like rocks rising up out of the river.
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 strewn with boulders that necessitate intricate maneuvering.
Bow: Front of a boat. See Galloway Position.
Bow-In: With bow pointed forward.
Broach: To turn a boat broadside to the current. Usually spells certain upset in heavy water.
Cartwheeling: Technique of spinning a raft just before a collision with a rock so as to rotate the raft off and around the rock.
CFS: Cubic feet per second. Sometimes referred to as second feet. A unit of water flow used to indicate the volume of water flowing per second past any given point along a river.
Channel: A raftable route through a section of river.
Chute: A clear channel between obstructions, steeper and faster than the surrounding water.
Confluence: The point where two or more rivers meet.
Curler: A high steep wave that curls or falls back onto its own upstream face. Considered by most to be a form of reversal. See Reversal.
Dig: Plunge paddle blades deep to grab the stronger downstream current well below the surface. Often initiated with the captain calling "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.
Draw Stroke: paddling technique of moving a boat sideways toward the paddle. Effective only with small, light rafts.
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.
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. Usually found below obstructions 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 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.
Falls: A drop over which the water falls free at least part of the way.
Feathering a Blade: On the return, knifing an oar or paddle blade through the air.
Ferry: A maneuver for moving a boat laterally across a current. Usually accomplished by rowing or paddling upstream at an angle. See also Reverse Ferry.
Flip line: A line used to turn a flipped boat right side up. These may be tied across a boat's bottom or worn as part of a belt around a guide's waist.
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.
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 or foot cones.
Four-Man Raft: A boat 4 1/2 by 9 feet that will, on small rivers, accommodate one or two people. Only those 4-mans with inflated tube diameters of at least 16 inches are suitable for river use. These little boats handle best when loaded with only one person and fitted with frame and 6- or 7-foot oars.
Freeboard: The distance from the water line to the top of the buoyancy tube.
Galloway Position: Basic position for oar boats; the oarsman faces the bow, which is pointed downstream.
Gate: Narrow, short passage between two obstacles.
Ghost Boat: To push a boat out into the current and let it float empty through a rapid.
Gradient: The slope of a river expressed in feet 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 enormous 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.
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, energized way of seeing and experiencing that tens to happen on river trips, especially trips infused with an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation. A sort of "predictable miracle" on Whitewater Voyage's trips.
Heavy Water: Fast current, large waves, usually associated with holes, boulders, and general turbulence. See Big Water.
High Float Life Jacket: A lifejacket with 22 or more pounds floatation. All Whitewater Voyage's life jackets are high floatation.
High Side!: Jump to the downstream side of the raft, fast! This command is used just before collisions with rocks and other obstructions, If a crew, is quick, the raft's upstream side is lifted up in time to let the current slide under, rather than into, theraft. This action often prevents theraft from becoming wrapped. Sometimes called as "Jump To" or "Rock Side."
Hole: A reversal. This term is generally applied to reversals of less than river wide width. See Souse Hole.
Hoopi: Half-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?"
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.
Hydraulic: A reversal. This is a general term for reversals, eddy fences, and otherplaces where there is a hydraulic gap, a powerful current differential. Sometimes used in the plural to refer to the whole phenomenon of big water, whom massive waves,violent currents, and large holes are the obstacles, rather than rocks.
Hypothermia: A serious physical condition caused by a lowering of the core body temperature. Symptoms include lack of coordination, thickness of speech, irrationality, blueness of skin, dilation of pupils, decrease in heart andrespiratory rate, extreme weakness,and uncontrolled shivering. Victims often become unconscious and sometimes die.
First Aid: Quickly strip off wet clothes and surround victim skin-to-skin in a bare-body sandwich; administer hot drink, etc.
J-Rig: A pontoon-sized raft formed by joining several giant snout-nosedsponsons.
Keeper: A reversal capable of trapping araft for long periods. Similar to butmore powerful than a stopper.
Krusing: 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 "Backpaddle!! Backpaddle!! Need ya now!! Need ya NOW!!" This captaining style is so named because it was honed to a legendary art by Whitewater Voyages guide, Barry Kruse (pronounced just like "cruise").
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.
Lining: The use of ropes to work a boatdown through a rapid from shore.
Logjam: A strainer dam of logs across a river. This dangerous phenomenon iscommon on small streams in wooded country.
Low Siding: Moving people on to the low side of a boat usually to squeeze through a narrow channel.
Making Time Downriver: A method of increasing downstream speed by using downstream angles, avoiding eddies and staying in the strongest jet of the current.
Meander: A loop-like bend in the course of a river.
"Nice Looking Rubbber": One of the higher compliments that can be paid on a raft.
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 rowing frame.
Oar Rubber: Piece of thick rubber used to hold an oar to the 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 theframe to the raft, the method of securing the gear to the frame, etc. The outfit of a paddle raft includes paddles, rope thwarts, perhaps aframe or poop deck, and so on Theterm may also be used to refer toany commercial Company, especially one engaged in outfitting trips down rivers.
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 longerbow and stern lines.
Pancaking: In a threesome raft, when the bow boat flips back onto the middle boat.
Park: In a generally Steep walled Canyon, a wide, level place adjacent to theriver with grass and trees, often found at the mouths of tributaries.
Pillow: The layer of slack water that pads the upstream face of rooks andother obstructions. The broader the upstream face, the more ample the pillow. Also called an eddy 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 Position. This narrows the passing space of the boat, allowing it to slide closely past obstructions. Sometimes called a front pivot
Point Positive: The custom when using river signals of always pointing in the direction you want someone to go, never in the direction you don't want them to go.
Pontoon: An inflatable boat 22 feet long or larger. These mammoth 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.
Portegee: Rowing technique of moving a boat forward by pushing on the oars.
"The Position": In an oar boat, assuming "the position" means the guide braces the oar handle high and forward at arm's length to plunge the blades down as deep as possible. Like digging in a paddleboat, this action can grab the downstream current below the surface to pull a boat through big holes and reversals.
Pry Stroke: paddling technique of moving a boat sideways away from the paddle. Effective only with small, light rafts. R1, R2, etc. A raft with one paddler, two paddlers etc.
Rapid: A fast, turbulent stretch of river, often with obstructions, but usually without an actual waterfall. 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.
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 backflows immediately below large obstructions justunder the surface, while others consist of steep waves that curl heavilyback onto their own upstream faces.Reversals are also called hydraulics stoppers, keepers, white eddies,roller waves, backrollers, curlers,sidecurlers, souse holes, and, mostfrequently, holes. Although some of these terms are used loosely to refer to any sort of reversal, others carry more precise shades of meaningand 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 into an eddy. With a heavy raft, this technique sometimes provides the only means ofentering a small eddy.
Riffle: A shallow rapid with very small waves, often over a sand or gravelbottom. 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: 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 may be the greatest, most healing gift any human being can give another.
River Right: Right side of the river when facing downstream.
Rock Garden: A rapid thickly strewn with exposedor partially covered rocks that demand intricate maneuvering.
Roller Wave: A reversal. This term is used variously to mean curler and backroller.
Rowing Frame: A rigid frame that provides a seatfor the oarsman and allows the raftto be controlled by large oars. It often also serves as a rack for gear. Also called an oar frame.
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.
Shorty Pontoon: A 22- to 25-foot pontoon. 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 meal drivers, or by usinga charter flight service if you can afford it. Or you can hitchhike with a sign reading: RIVER RAFTING-NEED RIDE UPRIVER.
Sidecurler: 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 the Whitewater Voyage's Guide Schools which provide hands on practice in various 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 center.
Souse Hole: A hole found below an underwater obstruction, such as a boulder. Thisterm usually refers to holes of narrow or moderate width that have water pouring not only from the upstream and downstream directions hot 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, jump int the boat's low, leading side or end to make it dive and take in water.
Stage Marker: A gauge placed along a river shoreline that is calibrated in feet orfractions thereof starting from an arbitrary zero point. With appropriate conversion information, these readings may be converted into CFS or, more important, raftabilityratings.
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 fast-moving water slams into slower-moving water. 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 thesewaves is measured vertically fromthe trough to the crest.
Stern: Rear of a boat.
Stopper: A reversal powerful enough to stop a raft momentarily. Also called a stopper wave. See Keeper.
Strainer: Brush, fallen trees, bridge pilings, or anything else that allows the current to sweep through but pins boots and boaters. These are lethal.
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. This term can also refer to the various paddle strokes used in rafting such as "forward", "backpaddle", "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 changes of angle and using as few strokes as possible to achieve the desired results.
Sweep Oar: A large oar extending over the bow or stern, commonly with the blade angled at the throat.
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. 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.
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.
Triple-Rig: Same as Threesome Raft.
Tube Stand: When an inflatable raft stands up vertically on one tube and then drops back own right side up.
Wet Suit: A close-fitting garment of neoprene foam that provides thermal insulation in cold water.
White Eddy: A reversal below a ledge or other underwater obstruction characterized by a foamy backflow at the surface.
Wild Thing: A technique for freeing a boat hung up on a rock by having the entire crew jump around like wild monkeys.
Wrapped: Said of a raft pinned flat around a rock or other obstruction by the current.
Z-Rig: A rope and pulley system which quadruples a group's strength. Used for unwrapping boats off mid-river rocks etc. See "Piggyback Rig".