The Yarra gets a bad wrap. Despite Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber taking a celebratory dip yesterday, you can be fined $1000 for jumping into it in some parts. Many Melburnians think the Yarra is dirty, or just an annoying obstacle to cross during peak hour.

Courtney Carthy wants to change our perception of the Yarra. He’s organising the Inflatable Regatta. Five hundred people on inflatable boats will travel 1.8 kilometres down the river from Richmond to Hawthorn. If you accidentally fall in, he has some advice. “As long as you don’t swallow the water you’re fine!” He adds, “Although, if you’ve got cuts, you probably want to wash them out pretty quickly.”

If it sounds a bit sketchy, you’re not the only one who thinks so. The Inflatable Regatta almost happened last year –15,000 people were listed on its Facebook event as attending, but it was cancelled in the lead up.

“We couldn’t get the permits from government organisations that needed to sign off on it, because we couldn’t organise a safety provider in time,” he says. This time he’s collaborated with Parks Victoria and Boroondara City Council to make sure the event is up to safety and organisational standards.

Carthy grew up in the suburbs around the river, but never really explored it until recently. Rowers and kayakers are usually the only people who get to see this part of Melbourne. This is why he bought 500 inflatable boats. “It’s cheap, it’s fun and you don’t have any ongoing responsibilities paying for a boat,” he says. “We can get people to appreciate this amazing part of Melbourne. The event is held four kilometres from Swanston Street, but it feels like you’re 100 kilometres away.”

He admits this will sound wanky, but Carthy wants you to see “untamed suburban nature” from the blow-up boat. He says you’ll see the backs of some amazing Melbourne houses, huge gum trees, twisting vines and, if you look closely, green tree frogs and platypuses. You will also float under train bridges that you may travel over on the Belgrave/Lilydale line every day, but never truly appreciate. “It’s a fun journey because you don’t know what’s around the next corner.”

Carthy feels everything in Melbourne is very manicured, and the Inflatable Regatta is a chance to explore the city’s wild side. “We’ve got nature down to a tree map, where every tree has got its own email address … then you go out a little bit further and you’re like, ‘Wow, look at all this really cool nature’.”

Melbourne Water is the only sponsor of the Inflatable Regatta, and that’s the way Carthy wants to keep it. “There’s not going to be any signage on the Yarra,” Carthy says. “So people just experience it like they brought their own inflatable down and a whole lot of friends turned up.”

Each inflatable boat will be given a bag to collect any rubbish it finds as it floats down.

If you’re not keen to take to the water, you can watch the boats from the west bank of the Yarra on the Capital City Trail between Bridge Road and Yarra Boulevard.

The Inflatable Regatta is on Saturday February 27. Tickets to participate are now sold out, however you can still attend as a spectator.