The most important factor to consider when selecting a site for a raceway farm is the water supply. Water sources for raceway aquaculture operations are usually streams, springs, reservoirs or deep wells. Trout do best in spring water because it keeps a constant temperature, while catfish need a strong flow, about 80 litres per second for every 0.4 hectares of raceway. A backup water supply should be positioned so, if the water supply or pump fails, it can flow by gravity into the start of the raceway.
Most raceways are made of reinforced concrete, though some earthen raceways are also built. Earthen raceways with plastic liners cost little and are easy to build, but cleaning and disinfecting them is difficult and plastic linings are fragile. Reinforced concrete is more expensive, but is durable and can be shaped in complex ways. Raceway tanks can also be built from polyester resin. These tanks have smooth walls, and are mobile and easy to service. However, their cost limits them to small sizes, under 5 cubic metres.
A raceway is most often a rectangular canal with a water current flowing from a supply end to an exit end. The length to width ratio is important in raceways. To prevent the fish stock from swimming in circular movements, which would cause debris to build up in the centre, a length to width ratio of at least six to one is recommended. If the width is too large this could result in a feeble current speed which is not desirable (see below). The length of a raceway unit is usually constrained by the water quality or by how much stock a unit can hold for ease of management. The average depth of a raceway for fin fish, such as rainbow trout, is about one metre. This means each section in a raceway should be about 30 m long and 2.5–3 m wide. The landscape should sloped to one or two percent, so the flow through the system can be maintained by gravity. The raceway should not be curved, so the flow will be uniform.
A raceway farm for freshwater fin fish usually has a dozen or more parallel raceway strips build alongside each other, with each strip consisting of 15 to 20 or more serial sections. The risk of unhygienic conditions increases towards the lower level sections, and can be kept in check by ensuring there are not too many sections and the water flow is adequate. In order to isolate any diseased section and avoid transmitting the disease back to the upper raceways, each section should have its own drainage channel. Controls, such as weirs, are also needed to ensure individual raceways can’t accidentally overflow or empty.