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. Real whitewater rafting has different levels of danger and the possibility of flipping the raft is one of the biggest. However, when whitewater rafting, it’s 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 can be as safe as it is fun if you know the terms and lingo beforehand! 

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


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, 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 depending on where you are may require assistance.
  • 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 definitely require experience. The rapids are more intense and the danger level is for advanced rafters.
  • Class 5- Class 5 rapids are for experts only. Not only is experience necessary but 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 that means either the rapids 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 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 the opposite direction of the flow. Rafters usually use this spot to slow down or to completely stop. However, depending on the size of the river and class, an eddy can be dangerous and flip the raft if approached too quickly.


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 the 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, river left would mean look to the left.

Put In and Take Out

“Put in” describes the starting point of the rafting trip, this could also be called “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.

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

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