Could someone explain to me the different types of classes of rapids, any help is good help Thanks . Also I just wanted to say I really get a kick out of the stuff that comes up on this board it really is great. Ha

The rapid classification is based on
an American Whitewater Association rating system that is about 40 years old. It is/was a decent system, but suffers from being applied subjectively. As paddlers have gotten better, a lot of rapids that CLEARLY and LITERALLY belonged in class 2 have been shoved down into class 1, and a lot of class 3 rapids have been shoved down into class 2.

Fortunately, most guidebooks on the market use the rating system fairly appropriately, so that they do not lure inexperienced paddlers into class 3 by calling it class 2.

My sincere advice, until we get a new system, is to read the AW language, and apply it literally.

Ditto The American Whitewater Site.
and Boatertalk for more info/discussions on white water related topics.

There are some ww folks here but not as much as the long boaters.


second that and
if in doubt and without the knowledge of local paddlers:

step the rating you’re going to paddle down a notch-it’s better to be dissapointed (a little…) than hurt (or worse)

happy paddling!

AW ratings page
VI. International Scale of River Difficulty


This is the American version of a rating system used to compare river difficulty throughout the world. This system is not exact; rivers do not always fit easily into one category, and regional or individual interpretations may cause misunderstandings. It is no substitute for a guidebook or accurate first-hand descriptions of a run.

Paddlers attempting difficult runs in an unfamiliar area should act cautiously until they get a feel for the way the scale is interpreted locally. River difficulty may change each year due to fluctuations in water level, downed trees, recent floods, geological disturbances, or bad weather. Stay alert for unexpected problems!

As river difficulty increases, the danger to swimming paddlers becomes more severe. As rapids become longer and more continuous, the challenge increases. There is a difference between running an occasional class-IV rapid and dealing with an entire river of this category. Allow an extra margin of safety between skills and river ratings when the water is cold or if the river itself is remote and inaccessible.

The six difficulty classes:

Class I Rapids

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 Rapids: 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. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class II+”.

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. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class III-” or “Class III+” respectively.

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 may be 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. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated “Class IV-” or “Class IV+” respectively.

Class 5: Expert

Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. 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 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 recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc… each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Class VI: Extreme and Exploratory Rapids

These runs have almost never been attempted and 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. After a Class VI rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an apppropriate Class 5.x rating.

Now, reading that Class 2 strictly,
explain to me why only two rapids on the Nantahala are rated class 3? There are a number of rapids on the Nanty that we >call< class 2, but which do not match the AW description.

Or, consider the semi-continuous series of rapids between Double Suck and Double Trouble on the Ocoee. Is there any way that series can be called “just class 2”?

Yet southeastern paddlers will flat refuse to rate these rapids higher, and some have proposed to downgrade both Pattons Run and Lesser Wesser to class 2.

WW Classifications for the same river location can vary wih CFS flow, which can vary for a number of reasons… (Time of year, damn releases, etc)

Keelhauler System
Check out:


This seems to be a very useful guide for rating not only many rivers at different water levels but perhaps more importantly, rating your own skill levels. This site allows you to compute points based on many factors including paddling experience, your river skills and your physical condition and matching them with a point system given to many WW rivers.

This may also help you discern what are truly “beginner” rivers from those that many call “beginner” rivers. There can be a big difference to a novice WW paddler.

I use the Ronzo/sines rating scheme…
…I ask Ron if I should run it, and i ask kathy

if I would find it a “fun” run.

If Ron says, “No,” or if kathy says “You won’t have

fun,” I go somewhere else.

If they both say, “yes,” I go and decided for


Yes, noted elsewhere on this thread.
AW ratings are usually done based on typical flow during the active season for that river. We are used to dealing with the flow issue. Many of the published guidebooks may include comments about how increased or decreased water level can affect difficulty.

It’s like unpaved roads. There are some that are easy for our Accord when dry, but almost impossible for our Outback when wet.

Here are the “real world” rapid ratings.
International System for Rating Rapids

This section © 2002 by David Petterson of Calgary Paddlers.

Class I, Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Swimming is pleasant, shore easily reached. A nice break from paddling. Almost all gear and equipment is recovered. Boat is just slightly scratched.

Class II, Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Swimming to eddies requires moderate effort. Climbing out of river may involve slippery rocks and shrub-induced lacerations. Paddle travels great distance downstream requiring lengthy walk. Something unimportant is missing. Boat hits submerged rock leaving visible dent on frame or new gash in plastic.

Class III, Intermediate. Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Water is swallowed. Legs are ground repeatedly against sharp, pointy rocks. Several eddies are missed while swimming. Difficult decision to stay with boat results in moment of terror when swimmer realizes they are downstream of boat. Paddle is recirculated in small hole way upstream. All personal possessions are removed from boat and floated in different directions. Paddling partners run along river bank shouting helpful instructions. Boat is munched against large boulder hard enough to leave series of deep gouges. Sunglasses fall off.

Class IV, Advanced. Water is generally lots colder than Class III. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise swimming in turbulent water. Swimming may require must' moves above dangerous hazards. Must moves are downgraded tostrongly recommended’ after they are missed. Sensation of disbelief experienced while about to swim large drops. Frantic swimming towards shore is alternated with frantic swimming away from shore to avoid strainers. Rocks are clung to with death grip. Paddle is completely forgotten. One shoe is removed. Hydraulic pressure permanently removes waterproof box with all the really important stuff. Paddle partners running along stream look genuinely concerned while lofting throw ropes 20 feet behind swimmer. Paddle partners stare slack-jawed and point in amazement at boat which is finally pinned by major feature. Climbing up river bank involves inverted tree. One of those spring loaded pins that attaches watch to wristband is missing. Contact lenses are moved to rear of eyeballs.

Class V, Expert. The water in this rapid is usually under 42 degrees F. Most gear is destroyed on rocks within minutes if not seconds. If the boat survives, it is need of about three days of repair. There is no swimming, only frantic movements to keep from becoming one with the rocks and to get a breath from time to time. Terror and panic set in as you realize your paddle partners don’t have a chance in heck of reaching you. You come to a true understanding of the terms maytagging and pinballing. That hole that looked like nothing when scouted, has a hydraulic that holds you under the water until your lungs are close to bursting. You come out only to realize you still have 75% of the rapid left to swim. Swim to the eddy?

What #%^&# eddy!? This rapid usually lasts a mile or more. Hydraulic pressure within the first few seconds removes everything that can come off your body. This includes gloves, shoes, neoprene socks, sunglasses, hats, and clothing. The rocks take care of your fingers, toes, and ears. That $900.00 dry suit, well it might hold up to the rocks. Your paddle is trash. If there is a strainer, well, just hope it is old and rotten so it breaks. Paddle partners on shore are frantically trying to run and keep up with you. Their horror is reflected in their faces as they stare at how you are being tossed around! They are hoping to remember how to do CPR. They also really hope the cooler with the beer is still intact. They are going to need a cold one by the time you get out! Climbing out of this happens after the rapid is over. You will probably need the help of a backboard, cervical collar and Z-rig. Even though you have broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, missing digits & ears, and a concussion, you won’t feel much pain because you will have severe hypothermia. Enjoy your stay in the hospital: with the time you take recovering, you won’t get another vacation for 3 years.

Class VI, World Class. Not recommended for swimming.

Thanks people this is what I was looking for, and gcouch funny as heck and informative thats what I like.

Yes, and to be biased by the type
of craft they are paddling. A rafter isn’t going to consider WW the same as an open canoe paddler.

Actually we do not change ratings for
different kinds of craft. A class 3 is a class 3.

Now I know
why I went swimming on more on the Etowah. those were Class 3 and not 2 as I was told.

gcouch = funny. liked that.


Hysterical… thank you!!

Rapid classification.
I think the standard is Class II plus the

number of times you have to pee while scouting.