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River Rafting Terminology in Iceland

Your Study Guide

|June 28, 2023
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River rafting may not seem like a sport you can prepare for. It’s exciting, adventurous and has a thrilling side that attracts so many to give it a try, especially in Iceland’s beautiful rivers.

But, before you take to a raft, you might wonder ‘How do you prepare yourself to head down a fast-moving river avoiding obstacles?’. The answer: learn the lingo. Like most boating sports, river rafting comes with its own terminology and phrases. From navigation to classes of rivers, learning the terminology is the best way on land to get ready for your river rafting adventure in Iceland.

10 River Rafting Terminology to Learn

We’ve compiled 10 river rafting terms and phrases to master before your adventure. Familiarize yourself with these and you’ll not only gain a deeper understanding of the sport, but get more enjoyment out of it.

1. Rapids

Rapids refer to sections of a river where water flows more quickly. Generally, rapids are found in narrow sections of the river where there’s a noticeable change in the river bed's steepness. These fast-flowing sections often appear in short bursts and can vary greatly in terms of difficulty and complexity, posing a range of challenges for rafters to navigate.

2. Eddy

This refers to a calm or slower-moving area of water that is typically found behind large rocks and obstructions in the water. Eddies are often used to rest or regroup. Sometimes, eddies can cause the raft to tip, this is caused by the water stopping or even moving in a different direction to the rapids.

3. Riffle

A riffle is a shallow section of a river where the water flows rapidly over a series of small rocks or gravel bars. Riffles often produce small waves and add bumpy excitement to a river rafting experience.

Rafters Paddling on River White Water Rafting

Rafters in blue helmets hitting a wave on a river while white-water rafting

4. D-Ring

A D-ring is a metal or plastic ring shaped like the letter "D" that is securely attached to the raft. It serves as an anchor point for attaching ropes, gear, or safety equipment during river rafting.

5. Punching

This term refers to using the raft's momentum to hit or punch through a wave or hole in the river. The aim of punches is to avoid getting stuck

6. High Side

While river rafting, you might experience your instructor shouting “high side”. This comment is used to instruct rafters to shift their weight to avoid flipping or capsizing. When ‘high side’ is commanded, rafters need to move their weight to the side of the raft that is higher.

7. Low Side

You might be able to guess this one - when ‘low side’ is commanded, it’s to instruct rafters to shift their weight towards the low side of the raft.

8. Dump Truck

If the raft is flipped and all rafters have been dumped out, the phrase to use is dump truck. As you can imagine, the phrase has come from the action of the raft being completely emptied like a dump truck.

9. Put-in

The starting point on a rafting trip is referred to as the put-in. This is where the raft is put onto the river and all the rafters climb on with their gear. But don’t be mistaken, the endpoint is not referred to as a put-out.

10. River Left and River Right

These terms are vital for new rafters to get the hang of. 'River right' and 'river left' refer to the sides when looking downstream, which means if you turn around to look upstream, 'river left' and 'river right' don't change. They are on the same side as when looking downstream. This helps avoid confusion as to which left or right you are referring to when heading down fast-moving water, and rafters are facing different ways.

River Rafting Classes

River Rafting Adventure in Iceland Water Sports

High volcanic rocks towering over a river

In order to determine and separate rivers depending on difficulty, they have been organized into six different classes. Each class requires a different level of skill and possesses its own set of challenges. To get you excited or learn more about your white water rafting tour, compare it to the classes below.  If you're still not sure what to expect, read the top 6 questions about white water rafting we get asked.

Class 1

Class I rapids are characterized by gently moving water with small waves that gently pull the boat downstream. It offers a leisurely and relaxing experience, making it an ideal choice for a laid-back day on the river. These sections are often referred to as "scenic float trips" as they provide a picturesque and tranquil setting. Many rivers include stretches of calm Class I water, providing a pleasant interlude between more challenging rapids.

Class 2

Class 2 rapids create incredible, playful, and steady waves that are fun to navigate. When rafting on these rapids, some maneuvering is required to keep the raft heading straight and avoid any "dump trucks" caused by the approaching waves.

For a class 2 river in Iceland, book a Hvita River rafting tour.

Class 3

Rapids that are classed as Stage 3 will feel stronger, heavier, and pack a brief punch. Following each obstacle or wave, there is a wider and calmer area for recovery, reducing the severity of consequences if the boat hits something askew. With a skilled guide leading the way, Class III rapids offer plenty of excitement and enjoyment. However, non-guided rafters can encounter challenges in these rapids and may find themselves in precarious situations.

Class 4

This is where things start to ramp up. Class 4 rapids have real power behind them and require complex maneuvers to navigate the obstacles. When rafters choose a Class 4, they will need precise boat handling skills as well as experience.

For a thrilling class 4  in Iceland, book an East Glacial River Gorge (Austari-Jökulsá) tour.

Rafting in Iceland Whitewater

Class 5

Class 5 rapids are extremely challenging and demanding. They require an expert level of skills due to their highly turbulent water, large and powerful waves, tight passages, and significant hazards. To raft on these waters, rafters need advanced whitewater skills and must be prepared for demanding conditions.

Class 6

These are classed as the most dangerous rivers to raft and are often considered unnavigable. Bigger and more intense waves, vertical drops, lethal currents, and holes large enough to flip a boat characterize Class VI rivers. Class VI rivers are reserved for only the most skilled and experienced whitewater experts.


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