Whitewater rafting seems like an incredibly tough activity that requires a degree of physical fitness and expertise - but does it really? The truth is that even beginners can go whitewater rafting. The only question is the level of river difficulty - something expert rafters determine before having a river section opened for use.
So how are whitewater rapids classified based on difficulty level? According to the American Whitewater Association, it is done using an international scale of river rapids ranging from Class 1 to Class 6. The Class of the rapids will dictate the degree of experience you need in order to enjoy white water rafting.
The Scale of River Difficulty Levels
Class 1 Rivers
A Class 1 rapid is perfect for beginners or those who have never tried rafting on moving water at any point in time. The skill level needed is pretty basic. In fact, Level 1 rapids even allow children at a certain age to experience rafting. The waves are small with zero to few obstacles interspersed during the trip. The waves are practically flat so that the whole trip is calmer than an adventure. The use of a kayak on these calm waters is possible, allowing for a very relaxing ride on your river trip.
Class 2 Rivers
At Class ii, the waves are much more noticeable with some reaching up to 2 feet in height. At this scale, the river still welcomes beginners - even young children. Class ii has very few obstructions and small waves that let rafters experience the excitement of it all without putting anyone in danger. In this class, water levels can be seen from far away so there's really no need to scout. Maneuvering is minimal to keep the boat on course.
Class 3 Rivers
At Class iii, the rafting experience necessary is at an intermediate level. Medium waves can be seen - some of which can go as high as 3 feet. Introductory courses on rafting are often done on this rafting level - making it perfect for those who want to try more challenging courses later on. Obstacles are present with more difficult turns and passages found. Swimming is an important skill at this point since the waters are rough enough to cause accidental falling off of the raft. Expect the raft to bounce around as the scale of river difficulty means there will be moderate maneuvering required. The water levels can go anywhere from Class i to Class 2 so there is enough time to recover in between rapids.
Class 4 Rivers
This is where the whole whitewater rafting experience turns into a sport. At this class level, irregular waves can go as high as 5 feet. There will be complicated drops and tight turns - necessitating the ability to self-rescue should one fall off of the raft. As with other classes, there will be moments when the river will be calm with Class i, Class ii, and Class iii rapids along the way - giving rafters the chance to recover their strength. At this point - whitewater rafting gets a bit more technical. The dips, dives, and blocks will be steeper, longer, and narrower so precise guiding is important. This also entails a more challenging course for Class IV.
Class 5 Rivers
At Class V, the whitewater requires advanced rafters to be part of the group. Rescue skills are a must with massive waves and drops that go as high as 8 feet. In order to participate in Class 5 water rapids, you need to have previous experience with Class IV and Class V water situations. It may require the presentation of additional information to guarantee that you're capable. Falling off the raft means a hazardous swim for participants and may need group assistance in order to get back up.
Class 6 Rivers
The Grand Canyon, as a destination, offers Class i, Class ii, Class iii, Class iv, and Class 6 rapid options - so practically anyone can visit and have a grand time in whitewater. At the highest class, the water showcases violent rapids and scouting is essential before any trip is scheduled. Some would call Class 6 "unrunnable" and demands that only the best ones go through the trip. Those who come back from Class VI rapids will definitely have something to talk about - especially since the waves at this stage can be fatal. Often, Class 6 rivers are navigated for exploration purposes.
While there are international standards when classifying water rapids, not everyone follows the above classifications. So don't be surprised if you notice scales that go all the way up to 10. The question however is - can a first-timer tackle bigger rapid scales? The answer often depends on the kind of raft or boat chosen for the ride. Smaller ones need massive skill and experience as it can be easily jostled by the rapids. A larger raft however is often safer so that even beginners can try out more challenging waters using a competent guide and a large, sturdy boat.
On the one with rapids and ratings, we need to list that Grand canyon is the only river that rates their rapids from 1-10. The equivalent of a Class 5 in Grand canyon is a class 3 on other rivers.