Kayaking Terms for River Running A-Z

The Paddler team have decided to put together a jargon buster for whitewater kayaking and canoeing.  Here’s an A-Z of some of the phrases you’re most likely to hear whilst on the river. So the next time you’re out kayaking you’ll no longer feel such a cupcake when your peers are talking about; boofing, boulder gardens and free falling.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N P R S T U V W 



A bag constructed by a tough durable fabric with a tube enabling the paddler to fill the airbag with air, very much like a balloon. The bag can then be fitted to the bow and stern of your kayak. The bag full of air will help keep the boat afloat in a swimming situation. An essential piece of equipment for river running. Specially designed airbags can be fitted for open canoes.

Aerated water

Aerated water, is moving water that when flows over a rock or drops quickly collects oxygen. Aerated water can easily be identified, as it looks white and fluffy. Aerated water will always be found in holes and in stoppers. Features that you’ll most likely find whilst river running.




The boof is a dynamic forward stroke that when performed correctly allows the paddler to run a drop or stopper without being caught in the stopper at the bottom of the drop. The idea is that the boat stays flat throughout the manoeuvre and lands flat; keeping the bow above the water helps continues the boats speed ready for the next move down the rapid. The boof stroke is a common skill whilst river running.

Boulder garden

A river or rapid can often be described as containing a boulder garden. A boulder garden is where a rapid is scatted with boulders creating many lines down the rapid. Boulder size can vary depending on the geology of the river. If you where paddling in the French Alps then car size boulders can be familiar, take a trip over to Nepal and house sized boulders quickly become your obstacle.



Creek boating

A creek or creeking is a steep river with drops, waterfalls and slabs. The river will descend quickly and a high level of skill is needed to navigate the rapids. Creek boating as taken off over the last ten years as boats have become stronger and resilient to knocks and of course paddlers have become more adventurous. It is common for creek boaters to wear full face helmets and body armour.


From the acronym CLAP, communication is vital to a successful descent of any river, whether it’s a first descent or a club river trip. Communication with your group needs to be clear and precise. For more information on whitewater leadership have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book.




A drop is a loose term used when describing a river feature. A drop is exactly that a drop in the river. It could be caused by a rock or a sudden increase in gradient dropping downstream. How you run the drop determines on what kind of drop it is. Boofing is a skill that can be used to run a drop.




The location on any river trip where you decide to get out or leave the river.
As access issues in the UK are strict it is always worth checking out where your egress is and whether it doesn’t interfere with landowners.



Full face helmet

A full face helmet is used in extreme cases of normally creeking when contact with rocks is more likely. The full face helmet is very much like a motorbike helmet. Of course they’re full face helmets specifically designed for whitewater paddlers. Before companies started making kayak specific full face helmets; paddlers use to use normal motor cycle helmets. This however made t
he helmet so heavy as water soaked into the padding that paddlers could roll up, as they were so full of water.


Freefall or freefalling can occur on large drops normally waterfalls. This is a feeling of complete weightlessness as you fall through the air with little contact with the water. There’s still lots of skill in running a freefall waterfall as you need to control your boat and body through the air to enable a safe landing. It may look like falling with grace on the kayaking videos but there is a lot of skill and technique in running freefall drops.



Group Dynamics

How does your group on the river run? Is there a dictator? Or is it a bit horizontal? A lot of the time on the river your dynamics as a group alter depending on a situation. It can alter very quickly from a simple read and run section with your peers to someone taking a swim and immediate action needing to be taken.




A hole is one of many river features that you may have to navigate around whilst river running. Holes come in many characters, but to keep it simple they’re normally two kinds; friendly holes and not so friendly holes. A hole is created water flowing over a rock in the riverbed. Now here is where the hydrology comes in. There are two types of water. Some of the water known as the green water (which contains the power) plummeting really deep and flushes downstream. The second lot of water tumbles over the rock and as it falls mixes with oxygen and becomes fluffy and white. (whitewater) The whitewater is what makes the hole hold a kayaker. Some holes have bigger stoppers on than others. It is possible to find holes at the bottom of drops, slides and waterfalls.



Incident Management

Every now and then things go wrong, but as long as it’s managed well it can soon be rectified. Linked with group dynamics managing your group or your friends comes with experience and time out on the water.




Like driving a car, riding a bike river running is left to the paddler to make forever changing judgment calls as they descend the river. It could be making judgement on when to stop your group for lunch or making a line on a rapid. This is a skill that comes with experience.




A useful piece of equipment that’s uses are limitless for general paddling and for day to day uses on the river.



Line is the route down the rapid or river. A paddler might say. “Where’s the line?” The line is the route you decide to take down the rapid.



Mobile Strainers

Mobile strainers are very common during and after floods. The floods tend to dislodge heavy debris from the river banks and send it soaring downstream. Mobile strainers have the same dangers of normal strainers but of course they move. Again trolleys bus wheels and crates can become a huge danger to your river trip. If there is a possibility of a river containing mobile strainers then maybe consider a day in the tea shop. For more information on whitewater hazards have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



No Signal No Manoeuvre

When paddling in a group a well used tool is no signal no manoeuvre. This enables good management whilst river running. Using this technique on the river helps keep the group safe whilst involves the whole team to keep an eye on the signals and communicate amongst their paddling friends.




A pin is a very dangerous situation in whitewater. A pin is when the kayak gets jammed either vertically or horizontally between rocks stopping the kayaker completely. The consequences can be fatal or leave the paddler injured. The force of the water can hold the paddler under water trapped in the kayak.


A piton is when you hit a rock very hard.



Read and run

Read and run is a phrase used by kayakers who are normally very experienced and happy making decisions in running whitewater. Read and run is used a lot in small quick groups, it enables paddlers to move down a river quickly. Read and run is when group members run their own lines and pick their own route down the river. It ‘s a very laid back approach and works well with peers. Read and run requires experience and quick thinking allowing paddlers to assess the line whilst making sure the rest of the group are safe.




A sling is a long piece of webbing that can be tapped into a big loop or can be left as one long piece with its end unattached to each other. The sling like the karabiner has lots of uses for paddling and river paddling. From towing a boat to a spare roof rack strap. A fantastic cheap must have for river paddling providing you use it safely. One can be purchased at your local climbing shop.


A stopper is exactly that, it stops the paddler. Another obstacle that you may have to avoid whilst river running. Their characteristics are the same as holes and some are safe and others must be avoided.


A vicious river hazard caused by obstacles such as trees and fences in the river that you can get tangled up in. In the UK trees are very common, trees can block rapids and act very much like a tea strainer letting the water past but catching any solid debris such as boats and paddlers. The branches can go deep under the water making it impossible to see what lies below. Strainers must be avoided at all costs and can be anything from fallen branches to shopping trolleys barbed wire fences and incorrectly moored boats. For more information on whitewater hazards have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book.




Time is crucial whilst paddling but comes into its own whilst on a river. In a whitewater environment the consequences become greater allowing more potential problems. Always allow time for the unthinkable even if you’re on you local river, that’s where most problems occur. If you are paddling with a new group allow more time freak weather can cause the river to rise resulting in a walk out. It is a good habit to build in more time to your paddling trips. Never find yourself getting off the water in the dark if a group member had tripped on the bank it could turn that quick winter afternoon blast to a long cold night.


A Throwline is a piece of safety equipment carried by every group member. The Throwline is a bag of floatation rope that is used as a rescue aid. It is carried in a self-draining bag and ranges in length from 8 meters to 30meters. To find out more about throwlines pick up a copy of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



Under cut

An undercut is created by a rock that has been eroded by the power of the river. Most of the time the rock looks perfectly normal above the water but below the water the rock creates a cave shape allowing paddlers and equipment to get swept under and pinned. Undercuts are a major hazard and only an experienced paddler can point them out. To find out more about river hazards pick up a copy of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



The V

When sitting at the top of a rapid you might be able to see a natural V pointing the way downstream. Sometimes obstacles either side of the river rocks, holes create two lines slopping downstream that eventually meet. This phrase ‘follow the V’ is used a lot when teaching paddlers the what line to take.



Weakest link

When paddling in a group it is easy to forget that some members can find it harder than you are. Perhaps physically or mentally so it is important that you move at the pace of your weakest paddler. The whole group is only as strong as the weakest link.




A rescue system put together with minimum amount of equipment providing a mechanical advantage. It has many uses but is most commonly used to pull of boats that are pinned or wrapped on a rock or drop. For more information on the latest rescue techniques have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.


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