Rafting: a river discipline suitable for everyone: what it is, techniques and tools, benefits and contraindications

Rafting: a river discipline suitable for everyone: what it is, techniques and tools, benefits and contraindications

If you love mountain excursions, water sports and group activities, you cannot miss rafting! In fact, it is ideal for spending a day dedicated to adventure, playing sports in contact with nature and sharing strong emotions and breathtaking landscapes with friends, colleagues or family.

Although it is an apparently dangerous discipline, it can be practiced by everyone and does not require any special skills: you just need to know how to swim and be in good physical shape, to discover fantastic landscapes from a totally new perspective.

This discipline originating from America has increasingly taken hold in our beautiful country, where there are so many rivers and streams to descend: from Calabria to Valle d’Aosta, from Lazio to Veneto.

In this article we will take you on a discovery of this adrenaline-pumping discipline, to learn about its history, practice and specificities. Let’s start!

What is rafting

Rafting is a water sport that is practiced exclusively outdoors. The name comes from the English word “raft”, literally “raft”.

The purpose of rafting, in fact, is to descend a watercourse on board, not on a raft, but on a dinghy, overcoming natural obstacles, such as stones, steep slopes and currents, present along the way.

It was born in 1800 with the aim of exploring North America, by navigating along the Ohio, Mississippi and Columbia rivers.

Around the 1950s, again in America, the playful practice of rafting began to spread, landing in America in the early 1980s, achieving ever greater success.

Thus, on 15 December 1987, a group of enthusiasts founded the Italian Rafting Association (AIRaf.) in Milan, which then became the Italian Rafting Federation (FIRaft.), with the aim of promoting this sport through training courses.

Subsequently, in 2010 CONI recognized it as a sports discipline associated with the Italian Canoe Kayak Federation (FICK). Since then, every year the Federation organizes the Italian Championship, in which different clubs compete in various disciplines.

There are also many European and international competitions, such as the World Rafting Euro Cup and the World Championship, organized by the World Rafting Federation.

The practice in brief

Rafting is a river discipline that is practiced in a group.

The crew is generally made up of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 18 people, although there are variants for practicing in pairs or alone.

Participants tackle the descent of rivers and streams aboard a dinghy, which they steer with the use of paddles. With the passage of time and the growing success, several variants of traditional rafting have also arisen:

  • Soft rafting: the softer version of the practice, which includes simpler and shorter routes, especially suitable for children.
  • White water rafting: the decidedly stronger version of traditional rafting, which is practiced in the so-called “white waters”, a term that indicates routes in which the water flows very quickly.
  • Body rafting: it is a “free body” descent along the watercourse. It is practiced in waters that are not too deep or too shallow, in routes that have few obstacles.
  • Canyoning: is the descent, always free body, of streams that flow inside rocky channels and gorges. It involves the use of mountaineering and trekking techniques.
  • Hydrospeed: we could define it as the solo version of rafting, in which each participant descends the watercourse aboard their own “hydro”, or rather a small single-seater bobsleigh.

Rafting: from a sport to a recreational activity

As we have seen, there are many rafting competitions, at national and international level, which are divided into 4 timed specialties:

  • SPRINT: competitions over short distances (minimum of 3,000 m and maximum of 7,000 m), in which the winner is the one who descends in the shortest time.
  • RX: the only non-timed but direct-elimination competition in which two teams challenge each other along the same watercourse about 600 meters long at the same time. Whoever arrives first wins.
  • SLALOM: the aim is to take, against the current, at least 4 of the 14 “doors” positioned along a route of about 400 meters.
  • DOWNRIVER: competition with a variable duration from 40 to 90 minutes, on undemanding rivers but long from a minimum of 7,000 meters to a maximum of 25,000 meters. As in the RX, the teams descend the same stream at the same time.

The score obtained in each of these disciplines defines the positioning of the teams in the general classification.

In addition to being a sport, however, rafting is increasingly chosen as a recreational activity to be practiced with family, friends or work colleagues:

  • Team building activities: many companies choose to organize excursions on the dinghy to strengthen the harmony between colleagues. Teamwork, necessary to face the descent of a river, is ideal for strengthening ties and making people understand the importance of collaboration. Depending on the number of participants, it is possible to organize competitions between different teams, to motivate the teams even more by leveraging their competitive spirit.
  • School trips: being a sport that can also be practiced by children, many schools replace traditional trips with rafting lessons associated with excursions and picnics. Fun, adventure and outdoor sports are the perfect mix to promote sports, knowledge of the area and respect for nature.
  • Stag/hen party: an original idea to celebrate the newly weds, especially if combined with a tasting at the end of the descent, for a special day with the right amount of adventure and relaxation.

Rafting techniques and tools


Let’s start by seeing how to position yourself correctly on the dinghy: the crew sits on the outer tubular (i.e. the edge) of the dinghy, distributing themselves equally on the right and left side.

The outer foot is wedged under the sausage or in the pocket (depending on the type of boat) in front of you, while the sole of the other foot rests on the sausage behind. The driver takes his place at the end of the dinghy.

How to hold the paddle correctly: one hand wraps the end that remains out of the water, called the “olive”, and the other grips the handle, about a span away from the “shovel”, i.e. the flat end immerse in water.


The commands given by the guide are few and simple, but must be followed to the letter:

  • Forward: lean forward with the body, dig the shovel into the water and pull backwards.
  • Stop: the paddle is pulled out of the water resting it on the legs.
  • Behind: the paddle is plunged backwards, pushing the water forward with the blade.
  • Weight to the right: whoever is on the left side releases the handle of the paddle, moves to the right side going to lie down on the legs of the partner sitting on the right and grabbing the perimeter rope of the right side with the free hand, while with the other hand he holds the olive.
  • Weight to the left: same movement as the previous command, but on the opposite side.
  • Holding: the handle is released and the perimeter rope is held, blocking the paddle between the arm and the body. The other hand never leaves the olive.
  • On the bottom: you take your feet off the sausages and sit inside the dinghy, on your ankles.

Technical terms

Let’s now move on to some technical vocabulary, useful for understanding the various situations that may arise during a descent:

  • Punching: when the crew paddles hard to increase the speed of the raft, avoiding collisions.
  • High siding: movement that prevents the boat from capsizing in the strong current.
  • Low siding: maneuver used to allow the raft to slide into a very small channel and/or shallow water.
  • Dump truck: technical term that indicates the fall of one or all rafters from the boat, which remains in a vertical position.
  • Left over right or right over left: movement that avoids possible capsizing caused by large waves.
  • Taco: occurs when the boat is not fully inflated and tends to close on itself, making the front and rear ends almost touch.
  • Downstream flip: indicates capsizing caused by collision with a rock or another vessel.
  • Back roller: indicates an inversion that often occurs after descending a dam.
  • Flip line: technique used to straighten the raft with the help of a tape and a carabiner. The sling is hooked to a handhold on the side of the boat using the carabiner, the rafters, standing on the opposite side, pull the rope and overturn the dinghy.
  • T rescue: occurs when a boat capsizes, due to its large size.

Rafting: equipment

The technical equipment for rafting is generally provided by the structure that organizes the excursion and includes:

  • Raft: originally real wooden rafts were used, later replaced by inflatable rafts and resistant, unsinkable and self-draining rafts. Modern inflatable boats, usually made of PVC and HYPALON are composed as follows:
    • Six isolated inflatable chambers: one for the bottom, four for the perimeter tubulars, one or more for the central sausages. The insulation of the chambers serves to ensure buoyancy in the event that one of the chambers is punctured.
    • Central sausages: they keep the structure rigid and stable, ranging from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 4, depending on the size of the dinghy.
    • Perimeter rope: fixed with rings along the perimeter of the dinghy, it is used to get back on the dinghy, in the event of a fall, to hold on in the most…