Information is an essential part of whitewater river rafting safety, whether it be a bit of advance planning on your end, knowing what to expect, or being able to turn to your guide for information and answers to your questions. In the same sense, understanding the classifications of rapids is a great way to be informed and better understand this exhilarating activity so you’ll be prepared to safely enjoy some outdoor fun!

Useful Things To Know

Here at Cascade, we pride ourselves on our safety standards and we have one of the best safety records here on the Ocoee. Our guides are not only experienced, but also undergo extensive training every year including River Safety, whitewater rescue, first aid, and CPR. The most important rafting safety tip to remember is to listen to your guide. They are there to ensure you have the best experience possible. All of our guides have over 5 years of experience and have rafted rivers all across the globe. They are passionate about rafting both within the workplace and during their free time and besides your helmet and lifejacket, they are undeniably your biggest safety resource.

You don’t need any experience to enjoy a fun day of rafting because we’ll teach you everything you need to know to have a great time on the river. You do need to be able to paddle and you may want to swim in the river, so for this, you need a certain amount of physical ability. Be careful to maintain control of your paddle at all times in order to avoid any unexpected black eyes or hits to the helmet.

Although we recommend you be able to swim in order to best enjoy your day, for our half-day trip being able to swim is not a requirement, however, for our full-day trip it is. Either way, with a day of water sport, you should be prepared to get wet and plan accordingly! During your time out on the river, while it’s possible you might fall out of the raft, this is a normal and fun part of rafting, and your guide is prepared to assist and take care of you with proper instructions before and during the whole process.

This may come as a surprise, but a big part of a great day of rafting is actually up to youPrepare yourself for your day ahead by fueling your body with the proper food, making sure you’re well-hydrated, using adequate sunscreen, and wearing the right clothes and shoes. By doing these things you ensure your body is ready inside and out!

Understanding The Classifications Of Rapids

The American Whitewater Association created the most commonly used system for classifying rapids known as the International Scale of River Difficulty. The scale features six classes or grades (I through VI) of rapids taking into account length of the rapids, intensity, speed, obstructions, as well as size and regularity of the waves. For our trips, the half-day features rapids between class III and IV, and our full-day features rapids up to class V. It’s important to understand that the ranking is more of a guide for safety, so a higher ranking does not automatically equate more enjoyable. Additionally, since rivers are not always the same throughout different times of the year as water levels vary, and because some of the factors are somewhat subjective, the classification (although a valuable reference) is not an exact science. Accordingly, there are in-between rankings such as III+ or IV-, which highlight this variance. Moreover, most rivers are made up of a combination of classifications in their different sections. A quick overview of the classification is as follows:

  • I (Easy) – Water with riffles and small waves, few or no obstructions
  • II (Novice) – Easy rapids and small waves, a possibility for some rocks and occasional maneuvering
  • III (Intermediate) – Rapids and moderate irregular waves, maybe a small drop, but no considerable danger, some tight passages requiring maneuvering and possible scouting
  • IV (Advanced) – Whitewater, long rapids, medium waves, maybe rocks, with the possibility of unavoidable waves and holes. Possibility of a considerable drop, possible sharp maneuvers, constricted passages requiring more complex, faster maneuvering. Powerful but predictable turbulent water
  • V (Expert) – Whitewater, rapids that continue for long distances, and the possibility for very violent rapids, precise maneuvering required. Drops may contain large, unavoidable large waves and holes, highest difficulty. Class V is much more open-ended and has a larger range of difficulty with additional sub-level ranking
  • VI (Extreme and Exploratory) – The most extreme and difficult runs, nearly impossible, unpredictable, and dangerous. Carries risk for injury or death for even the most experienced rafters, and not commercially raftable

Here Cascade Outdoors we are whitewater rafting safety experts. We believe in doing our best to make rafting as accessible as we can in order to accommodate all tastes from those searching for high adventure or those looking for an enjoyable but more relaxed level of adventure. We love sharing our passion for the outdoors and all the adventure that comes from a great day out on the Ocoee! For more information check our FAQ page for answers to the most common questions, or get in touch with us!