Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know

There are many terms in whitewater rafting that are need-to-know terms. While rafting rides at Disneyland or other theme parks feel like they may be the real thing, they’re not.

Whitewater rafting can be as safe as it is fun if you know the terms and lingo beforehand! 

Real whitewater rafting has different levels of danger, and the possibility of flipping the raft is one of the biggest. However, whitewater rafting is usually done with a guide in a river with different-class rapids.

The guide on your trip will use specific terms to get straight and to the point.

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know Close Up of a Yellow Raft on a River Filled with People

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know a Red Raft with People Going Down River


Every river is put into a class depending on the difficulty of the rapids. Classes are numbered and pretty easy to understand. The best part of the classification system is that it’s internationally recognized.

  • Class 1- Class 1 rapids are very easy. Some pros will tell you that class 1 rapids are pretty much just a lazy river with few to no rapids. Also, if you fall out of the raft, you can easily swim or stand and walk back to the raft.
  • Class 2- Class 2 rapids have more rapids than class 1 but are still relatively small and easy to maneuver. Self-rescue can be done, but it may require assistance depending on where you are.
  • Class 3- Class 3 rapids have more actual rapids, and some may be harder to avoid. Having a bit more experience is necessary for class 3 rapids.
  • Class 4- Class 4 rapids are intense and require experience. The rapids are more intense, and advanced rafters have higher danger levels.
  • Class 5- Class 5 rapids are for experts only. Experience is necessary, and a high level of fitness is recommended.
  • Class 6- Class 6 rapids are a monster all their own. If rapids are known as class 6, they are so big that no one has done them yet, or they are constantly changing. A constant change means you will need to know how to maneuver out of every situation, and if you do not, rescue may be impossible.
Whitewater Rafting Termonology
Photo Credit: Kate Wills


An eddy is a spot in a river usually found just downstream of an obstruction where the water goes in opposite the flow. Rafters usually use this spot to slow down or to stop completely.

However, depending on the size of the river and class, an eddy can be dangerous and flip the raft if approached too quickly.

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know Three Yellow Rafts Each Filled with People on a River


A rapid is what most people are looking for when whitewater rafting. A rapid is when there is a sudden drop, underwater obstruction, or rise in the water that causes a natural roller coaster effect.

When classes are distributed to a river, they usually refer to the difficulty and frequency of the rapids.

Whitewater Rafting Terms To Know
Photo Credit: Kate Wills

River Left or River Right

Rafting is always rapids; there are calms between each rapid on most rivers. During this calm, it’s fun to look at nature on or near the riverbanks.

A guide may point out animals, plants, or even historic tidbits by saying “River Right” or “River Left”. River right would mean look to the right, and river left would mean look to the left.

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know People in a Blue Raft Going Down River

Put In and Take Out

“Put in” describes the starting point of the rafting trip; this could also be called the “launching point.” The end of the trip is called the “take out”. Very simple and easy-to-understand terms.

White Water Rafting Rapids
Photo Credit: Kate Wills

Rock Garden

A rock garden is a spot in a river where the rapids are made due to rocks that may rise higher than the water levels. These spots on the river could be hard to maneuver or very dangerous.

Some guides may refer to these spots as a “boulder garden” as well.

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know View of a Yellow Raft Covered in White Water on a River

High Side Right/Left

Depending on the class rapids you’re experiencing, the water may not always be flat and calm. However, before a raft flips and depending on the intensity of the rapids, a raft may balance a bit on one side.

If it balances long enough, a guide can shout out a command “High right” or “High left”. If these commands are shouted, it means to move to the high side of the raft to try and settle it down.

Whitewater Rafting Riding The Bull
Photo Credit: Kate Wills

Ride The Bull

If the rapids are smaller, and you’re confident in your abilities, you can ride the bull. Riding the bull means to sit on the front of the raft and hold the perimeter line between your legs.

You usually want to do this during a rapid, and it’s very fun. (see picture above). These terms are only a few of the most important terms to know when whitewater rafting.

Whitewater Rafting Terms and Lingo To Know a Group of People in a Red and Black Raft Going Down a River

I traveled to Salt Lake City and had an awesome guide named Clark with All Seasons Adventures. Our guide explained these terms and a few others to us.

However, now that you know what some of these terms are, you can be ahead of the curve when you go rafting for the first time.

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