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Oar Raft Maneuvering Terminology

This article contains terms we use in our whitewater rowing schools. Although some of this is specific to rowing oar rafts, the terminology is consistent with paddle rafts and kayaks.


Ferry (or “ferrying”) is a general term that describes moving laterally across the current. This occurs when being positioned at an angle (“ferry angle”) to the current and moving at a different speed than the current.

A Ferry Angle is the angle between your boat and the current that causes lateral movement across the current. For rafts this angle is generally between 45 and 90 degrees

Upstream Ferry (or “ferry glide” or simply “ferry”) refers to going slower than the current at an angle to move laterally across the river. This is the most common use of the term “ferry” and so unsteady of saying “upstream ferry” you can just say “ferry.”

A Downstream Ferry refers to moving laterally across the river by going faster than the current. This most commonly refers to pulling on the oars with your stern downstream (see below).

Boat Maneuvers 

In order to maneuver your raft in current, you’ll need to either move faster or slower than the current by pulling or pushing on the oars.

Pushing Downstream (shorthand “Push”) occurs when you are facing downstream and pushing on the oars to go faster than the current.

Pulling Upstream (shorthand “Pull”) occurs when you are facing downstream and you are pulling on the oars to go slower than the current. This technique is commonly used to ferry (longhand “back ferry”) across the river or avoid a hazard.

Pulling Downstream (commonly referred to as “Downstream Ferry”) occurs when you are facing upstream and pulling on the oars. This is a powerful technique used to break through laterals and strong eddy lines.

Pushing Upstream is a bit more challenging since it’s hard to maintain angle. This is an advanced technique sometimes used to leave eddies or perform a ferry.


Tracking refers to a boat’s tendency to move in the direction it’s pointed.

There are three things that affect tracking.

  1. Floor and tube shape: Some floors or tubes act like a keel keeping a boat moving straight instead of turning or slipping sideways
  2. Weight: A heavy boat sits lower in the water and catches faster currents. If you put most of your weight in the bow of the boat the front will be even lower and it will feel like you are being pulled down the river.
  3. Surface Current and Waves: When the boat is moving at an angle to the current and moving faster than the surface current, the surface currents push the boat laterally in the direction it’s pointed.

Holding a Line

This refers to how well a boat maintains its angle in whitewater. For flatwater (lakes and oceans) this is referred to as “tracking” which can cause some confusion with the whitewater definition of tracking above.

The rocker profile will affect how well the boat can hold its line without adjustments. A boat with a short water line and/or a lot of rocker will be more maneuverable while having difficult time holding a straight line.

Originally Published: | Updated on | Categorized under: Schools

Post Author

Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure Northwest Rafting Company offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.