Abstract: The feasibility of particle image velocimetry (PIV) in a thermally convective supercritical fluid was investigated. Hereto a Rayleigh–Bénard convection flow was studied at pressure and temperature above their critical values. The working fluid chosen was trifluoromethane because of its experimentally accessible critical point. The experiments were characterized by strong differences in the fluid density from the bottom to the top of the cell, where the maximum relative density difference was between 17 and 42%. These strong density changes required a careful selection of tracer particles and introduced optical distortions associated with strong refractive index changes. A preliminary background oriented schlieren (BOS) study confirmed that the tracer particles remained visible despite significant local blurring. BOS also allowed estimating the velocity error associated with optical distortions in the PIV measurements. Then, the instantaneous velocity and time-averaged velocity distributions were measured in the mid plane of the cubical cell. Main difficulties were due to blurring and optical distortions in the boundary layer and thermal plumes regions. An a posteriori estimation of the PIV measurement uncertainty was done with the statistical correlation method proposed by Wieneke (Measure Sci Technol 26:074002, 2015). It allowed to conclude that the velocity values were reliably measured in about 75% of the domain. Graphic abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].