Class I/II - Is my boat capable?

I’ve got a 14’ rec touring boat - a Tsunami 140.

The area I live in has some decent rivers. Nearly everything has a little class I or II though.

Can I do this kind of technical stuff in my boat once I’ve had some paddling instruction?

I’m not looking to do any serious drop offs like the whitewater guys do, just trips with mellow local groups.


Yes - but
Yes, your boat is capable. Probably you won’t be - at least at first.

It ain’t the boat, It’s the boater
Absolutely maybe is the answer to your question.

Folks run Is and IIs in rec boats all the time with varying levels of success. Be aware that the rating system is pretty subjective and not exact. Some IIs are a LOT harder than others.

The best way to find out how it will work for you is to start on the easier stuff and work your way up. At some point you may decide you need a more specialized boat to take on more difficult stuff. Or you may decide that boat will do all you need.

Have fun,



– Last Updated: Feb-17-09 5:17 PM EST –

I once got severely flamed for answering a nearly identical question by saying saying a 14-foot recreational touring kayak is suitable for doing Class-I with brief Class-II whitewater. In part, I deserved it because I'm not up-to-date on the nomenclature regarding all the modern designs, but in spite of the fact that a couple of expert whitewater folks here said by implication (listing suitable and unsuitable boats) that ANY boat longer than about 7 feet is way too big for ANY whitewater, I still maintain that you don't need a kayak that's smaller than the average musky lure just because you pass through occassional Class-II drops. I think that's as silly as saying you need four-wheel drive just because there is occassionally some snow on the road (though that reasoning is real enough to some people, so that probably explains the whitewater thing too). And also in contrast to what these same guys said, I STILL say a 14-foot touring boat will leave those whitewater boats behind on the flatwater stretches and you won't have to exert yourself to do it.

A friend of mine has a similar boat as yours (or maybe it's only 13 feet - I don't remember), and she can leave me in the dust when I'm in a solo canoe, and I alrready know I can leave whitewater kayaks in the dust with the same canoe, so I know you'll do well in that boat on the flatwater sections. She has used that boat on various parts of the North Fork of the Flambeau River, which has numerous easy rapids, some of which are Class-II by nature of the maneuvering that's required or due to the size of the waves, and that boat has worked fine. Another P-netter who used to post here a lot runs that same river with a 16- or 17-foot Looksha, but he's a pretty strong paddler and can make that boat do things most people wouldn't want to try.

The average touring boat is not highly maneuverable, but if you can backpaddle and backferry, you can reduce your forward speed, often to a standstill, and slide it back and forth to thread it through some pretty difficult zigs and zags with not much trouble. On the other hand, on the flats between drops, your boat will be a very nice river cruiser and won't be handicapped like a whitewater boat. I say go for it.

should be ok
If there are reasonably straight lines through the rapid sections, you should be fine. As a reference point, good paddlers can take a 16’ open canoe through most I-II stuff.

The biggest worry is getting pinned across the current and having the boat fold, possibly trapping your legs.

Learning to read the river is the most important skill.

Class I no worries
Class II - Depends on the Class II.

Also bear in mind that you’re not going to be PLAYING in the whitewater, but you should be able to RUN it fairly well. If the Class II is at the upper end and requires some maneuvering, there could be trouble. If the Class II is a straight forward shoals wave train, blast on through. Wear a skirt. Kayaks are very difficult to keep people side up with they are full of water, which a wave breaking over the bow of your kayak WILL cause to happen. Ask me how I know…

I have done a lot of class II type water fishing from recreational kayaks, and gone with others who do the same. We aren’t playing in it, but we’re running it. Shoot, the Class I stuff I don’t even have my hands on the paddle any more, as I’m often floating through backwards to get casts off to the eddies as I float past them. I’ve landed a lot of smallmouth bass that way.

I’ve been blasted too, for saying that a recreational kayak is worthy for anything other than a garage decoration. C’est la vie. I’ve taken recreational kayaks down class II water and lived to tell the tale. I’ve been with others who did the same thing. So far, they’ve all lived too. And we’ve done it for years (approaching a decade now, eh, ShenandoahRiverRat, that’s a scary thought).

  • Big D

the tricky part
usually isn’t the waves or ledges that you can run fairly easily, it’s the tight turns and zigzagging through rock gardens that may be more of a challenge. I say give it a try, as long as you don’t mind leaving some plastic stripes behind in the process :slight_smile:

It’s hard to answer
without knowing your skill level and the actual section of river. Any class I should be fine, but there are class II’s that a beginner should not try in a longer boat.

For example, a local run (Bear Creek) has a section with one Class II rapid that is as easy as they come. Simple approach and a big pool for recovery if you go over. Also easy shore access and lots of people frequent the area so help is always nearby. We had complete novices run that in 16 foot sea kayaks without any problems at all.

Then go up into Tennessee on the Hiawassee which also has sections that are only Class II, but they are much faster and less forgiving. Yes, you could run it in a 14 footer, but you better be prepared to roll or swim and you might walk away a little black and blue. The likelihood of a fatal accident is still very low, but you can get in trouble a lot easier and you might find yourself needing a rescue.

My advice is to find a local club and ask what trips are suitable for beginners. Ask the trip leader if your boat is okay for an upcoming trip. If it isn’t, they can point you to trips that are.

Also note that the actual flow rate can have a big effect. Some rapids get easier and others get more difficult. The same section of river can be quite different and the trip leader watches those conditions. If Bear Creek gets too much water, one of the portages turns into an unavoidable Class V, if the Hiwassee has too little you scrape bottom for half a day.

My general rules for doing a new class I or class II in my 14 foot rec boat are to keep the boat pointed downstream and to follow the guy(s) in front of me (unless he hits something). That eliminates about 90% of what can go wrong.


As one of the older paddlers on pnet,
I started out, in the 70s, in 13 foot boats. Almost all the whitewater paddlers used 13 foot boats, or longer. Many of the “whitewater” kayaks back then actually didn’t handle as well as some of today’s rec boats.

I am somewhat puzzled that people think that very short kayaks (under 8 feet) are somehow better for running class 1-2 rivers. They may be better for playing on such rivers, but they don’t execute ordinary eddy turns and peel outs, or ferrying, any better than properly designed longer kayaks.

Here in Georgia, the Broad River NE of Athens is an excellent class 1-2 river, and some of the class 2s are far from trivial. The Broad River Outpost routinely puts untrained newbies in recreational kayaks to run the Broad, and somewhat to my amazement, those rec kayaks get most of the newbies through everything without incident. They have much less interesting runs through those rapids than I do, and they would need a good deal more skill, and perhaps better boats, to pick the rapids apart. But for just getting down the whitewater, those rec boats are fine.

I have run Class 1 and mild Class II
in a 16’Tarpon. Even did a mild dogleg once,but the water was low.

The real key is
the maneuverability of the kayak and paddler when you start getting into more difficult whitewater. The Tsunami is a good, rec boat that is mainly designed for flatwater conditions. It has almost no rocker which means it isn’t going to turn as well as a whitewater boat or even some longer sea kayaks.

The primary hazards are strainers and rocks. If you come around a bend in a class I rapid and see a strainer 40 yards ahead, you may need to turn and sprint to the shore. The whitewater boat turns 90 degrees with one stroke, you may need 3 big sweep strokes which costs you time. If you don’t make it, you’ll have a lot of water pushing on a lot of surface area holding you against the strainer. Lean upstream and the water will grip the edge of your boat and you’ll be checking out the strainer from underneath…

Some whitewater guys float the rapids sideways to the current so they can move laterally faster. This would help the long boat be ready for strainers, but this can be a really bad idea. If you hit a rock squarely, it can pin you. If there is enough pressure, your poly boat can fold and trap you. Even bumping a small rock can turn you around backwards just before that class II rapid. Going down sideways to the current is inherently more unstable in a long boat.

You can learn how to make the Tsunami more maneuverable with leans and paddling strokes and that will help a great deal around these hazards, but ultimately to do the technical stuff you will need a more maneuverable boat. These are typically shorter and often have a good bit of rocker as well. Some are very forgiving and others are very unstable with the latter generally being the small squirt/playboats that most people associate with whitewater kayaking.


Two Words!

– Last Updated: Feb-17-09 11:41 PM EST –


None of the problems you describe present any real difficulty in Class-I and short Class-II drops if you know how to backferry. The boat always stays pointed nearly straight downriver so it won't broadside any rocks, but lateral movement remains excellent, even in a "non-turny" boat, because you never actually "turn" or "steer" in a conventional way. Instead, roughly 5 degrees of pivoting in-place is all it takes to move you quickly to the right or left as required, as long as the boat's motion is in reverse relative to the water (the boat is still moving downstream, but more slowly than the current).

In contrast to what you said in the second paragraph, in a straight-tracking boat one should NEVER rely on turning to get yourself out of trouble when in fast current. Side-slipping, and ESPECIALLY the back-ferry, will accomplish in a few seconds what you would never have time to do by turning the boat and aiming in a new direction. And you'll never end up in that vulnerable, sideways-to-the-current orientation as a result.

Well, hardly ever. We tandemed
an 18.5’ Moore Voyageur down section 3 of the Chattooga, and there were a number of occasions where we fought out of a heavy wave train to turn into an eddy.

Back in the 70s, lots of WW kayaks had little rocker and did not turn all that well unless one made full use of current differential.

Some of today’s rec kayaks sit fairly light on the water, and one can also turn them by leaning to get the ends more out of the water.

I Agree With G2D
I also did quite a bit of boating back in the 70’s and early 80’s in WW yaks that were 13’ or longer. As I recall, pretty much all yaks were 13’-2" at one time because that was the Olympic spec for slalom kayaks. A 13’+ Phoenix Appalachian built from a kit and then a Phoenix Cascade (13’-2")introduced me to the sport in the 70’s. My first descent of the New River Gorge and Gauley in WV was in a 13’ plastic Hollowform River Chaser I picked up in 1980. The Mirage I paddled in ‘81 was also a 13 footer. It wasn’t until I bought a 12’ Perception Eclipse in ‘83(The Eclipse was a WW yak back then) that I had a yak under 13’. All those boats did a lot of trips on the New, Cheat, Gauley, Chattooga, Big South Fork, Nolichucky, Ocoee, etc.

My first rec boat (Perception Sierra) handled a lot like my old Eclipse except with a lot larger cockpit. Just had to anticipate a little more and drop into rapids at a 45 degree angle. I think my Dagger Approach probably handles better than any of those old (or maybe ancient) school boats I had. The Manta Ray and Tarpon SOTs I fish from respond a little slower but still get through class II fairly easily.

Take a slow approach to learning to paddle your Tsunami through rapids. Learn how your yak handles in different situations and how to read water and you should be able to handle class I-II.


thanks ya’all!
I have connected up with a local group - of course with the weather this way, there isn’t much going on right now. Wimps!

Anyway, they are pretty good about stating what the expertise requirement is for various trips. My goal this season is “trained beginner.”

I do have a skirt, I’ve got my first lesson on paddling skills next week and I plan to take more to learn rolling and wet exiting as soon as the water temp gets a wee bit nicer.

Your advice has been really helpful and I enjoy reading this board.

Good for you hooking up with a group
Here’s something that comes to mind having paddling mild WW with someone in a rec kayak. Following a line someone shows you means just that. It’s a line and not a five-foot-wide generalized path.

Of course if the water is warm and you don’t really mind getting wet, then it doesn’t matter quite so much … at first.


– Last Updated: Feb-18-09 10:52 AM EST –

"The Tsunami is a good, rec boat that is mainly designed for flatwater conditions."

and just where did you get this info?

rec boat?

designed for flatwater?

yeah, RIGHT!

me (one of the designers) in a Ts-140 in non-flatwater conditions. (not pic 324- that's Russ Watt in a Tempest)


I’ve had my Tsunami125 in Class I, II
and some hairy Class II after rain on a very swollen Naugatuck River (upper section). Class II is relative as mentioned previously. I survived a 7 foot deep hole, although I hope to never meet one again. I live next to a river with plenty of Class I and some moderate class II with one 3-4’ drop over an old dam that I portage. I ran it once when river was up, making it a one foot but a seriously strong flow that sent me swimming.

You should have no trouble in “typical” Class I,II with the following things to remmeber…

If I’m doing a river with any whitewater, I bring my helmet, period.

Use a spray skirt. That boat will be a hand-full with five or eight gallons of water sloshing around.

Be prepared for lots of “character lines” on the bottom of your boat. Mine looks “old before its time”, although I don’t care.

Learn to “read” the river, have safety gear, stop and survey before tackling sections, follow more experienced paddlers if possible, use eddys along edges of river to regroup and survey.

Class 2 is not all that relative. The
problem is that a lot of rapids are called class 2 when they do not fit the printed definition of class 2. OR they are classified “2” because better paddlers find them easy. Pattons Run on the Nantahala used to be called class 3, and it does not fit the definition of a class 2, but it is now called class 2 even though it pins rafts and duckies almost every summer weekend, and not long ago killed a guy who swam into it in the wrong place.

I’ve Got Experience
Paddling whitewater in 14’ flatbottom kayaks. I use a SOT and have handled as much as class IV. This kayak: will only handle well when moving through the current, not with the current. Back ferrying a kayak like that is a waste of effort. What you will find is that your bow will be pushed around a rock because it cuts into the current. Utilize that. I’ve made turns that are impossible in river kayaks. Literally carving turns around rocks, much like snow skiing. On the Verde River, in AZ, I went over a fall that ran into a rock face. It was a sharp turn to the left I made it because the current grabbed my bow while I made a strong backstroke with my blade at a 45. This helped me turn while staying upright. I’ve used that move many times.

Right now you’re probably not even close to being good enough to handle a capsize in your kayak. I chose a SOT because I can reenter quickly and don’t face the dangers kayakers do in a closed cockpit.

FYI, I took a Perception Illusion down the Escalante into Lake Powell several years ago. It’s a technical class III. The rubber duckies were bouncing off the rocks while we were gliding around them.