In and Around
International Scale of River DifficultyFrom the Safety Code of the American Whitewater Affiliation
Class I: Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
Class II: Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed.
Class III: Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.
Class IV: Advanced. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting is necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong eskimo roll is highly recommended.
Class V: Expert. Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to above average endangerment. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes, or steep congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies may exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is mandatory but often difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential for survival.
Class VI: Extreme. One grade more difficult than
Class V. These runs often exemplify the extremes of
difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The
consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may
be impossible. For teams of experts only, at
favorable water levels, after close personal
inspection and taking all precautions. This class
does not represent drops thought to be unrunnable,
but may include rapids which are only occasionally run.
Now, a few words about all this rating stuff. The rating system is an attempt to reduce the complex and infinitely varied features of all the rapids on the planet to one of six categories, and as such, it has its limitations. Knowing that a rapid is class III, for instance, does not tell you all you need to know to run it. The only real way to assess the difficulty/danger of a rapid is to learn how to read the water, and then go look at it yourself. The advice of guidebooks and of other experienced paddlers can be invaluable; but in the end, the decision to paddle or portage is a highly personal one that everyone who runs whitewater should learn to make.
There is endless discussion among paddlers about the alleged over-/under- rating of rivers in various regions of the world; most of this is pointless, as the difference between IV+ and V- on a remote wilderness river is probably irrelevant to someone who has blown their second offside roll attempt and is going swimming.