White Water rafting – Grading system

The expression white water is created in a rapid, when a river’s incline increases enough to disturb its laminar flow and generate turbulence, i.e. form a bubbly, or aerated and unstable current; the foamy water appears white-colored. The saying is also used loosely to refer to less-turbulent but nevertheless agitated flow

Essentially the most frequently used grading model is the International Scale of River Difficulty, where whitewater (either a singular rapid, or the total river) is categorised in six kinds from class I of white water grading system (the easiest and safest) to white water class VI (by far the most difficult and most hazardous). The whitewater grade reflects both the practical difficulty and the hazard associated with a rapid, with whitewate grade I (river) referring to flat or slow moving water with few hazards, and grade VI referring to the most difficult rapids that can be very dangerous even for pro paddlers, and are rarely run. Grade-VI whitewater rapids are occasionally reduced to grade-V or V+ if they have been run with success. More challenging rapids (for example a grade-V rapid on a mainly grade-III river) are often portaged, a French term for carrying. A portaged rapid is when the boater lands and carries the boat around the hazard.

A rapid’s grade is not fixed, since it may vary greatly depending on the water depth and speed of flow. Although some rapids may be easier at high flows because features are covered or “washed-out,” high water usually makes rapids more difficult and dangerous. At flood stage, even rapids which are usually easy can contain lethal and unpredictable hazards

  • Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)
  • Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
  • Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)
  • Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)
  • Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)
  • Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers (e.g., a smooth slide that creates a near-perfect, almost inescapable hydraulic (see ‘Holes’ below), as at Woodall Shoals or Chattooga). Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning “danger to life or limb.” (Skill Level: Expert)

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