Whitewater Rapids Classification

Whitewater Rapids Whenever someone goes rafting or kayaking on whitewater it is vital that they have a good idea of what to expect. To standardize and simplify this process, whitewater rapids are rated on a scale of I to VI. The rapids receive ratings based on a combination of difficulty and danger.

Class I
Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II
Easy rapids with smaller waves, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering might be required.

Class III
Rapids with high, irregular waves. Narrow passages that often require precise maneuvering.

Class IV
Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require complex maneuvering in turbulent water. The course may be hard to determine and scouting is often necessary.

Class V
Extremely difficult, long, and violent rapids with highly congested routes, which should be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult, and there is a significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap. The upper limit of what is possible in a commercial raft.

Class VI
Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only. Involves risk of life. Class VI rapids are not commercially raftable.

This classification system is not an exact science. On any river the degree of difficulty and danger will fluctuate with water levels. Typically, high water levels increase the difficulty. However, some rapids become more technical and more difficult at lower water levels. The classification system also does not take into account the type of boat being paddled. Some rapids may present particular challenges for rafts, while others may be more difficult for a kayaker. Finally, as with any rating system, there is an element of subjectivity. While most commercial outfitters and experienced paddlers are able to agree on the rating of particular rapids, there will always be some who believe a certain rapid should be Class III, while others believe that it should receive a Class IV rating.

This classification system is a guide only. Most rivers have a variety of rapids of varying degrees of difficulties based upon water levels and other factors. Always talk to professional rafting guides to find a river section with rapids appropriate for your group.

It is also important to remember that a rapid's classification has little to do with how much fun a it offers. The difficulty and danger of a rapid does not always relate to its "fun factor."

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