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Safety Code of American Whitewater

1998 revision, related articles

The following survey was used to solicit the rating “votes” that were used to create the list of standard rated rapids. This survey was distributed both, via the AWA Journal, and also by soliciting expert kayakers. Because both methods yielded similar results, respondents to both methods were combined into the one survey.

Please note: the form at the bottom is no longer in use because the study was completed years ago.
Please do not submit it now.



The AWA Safety Committee
Needs your help!!

You’ve read about it. Now we’re asking for your help. We are trying to “benchmark” a representative sample of popular rapids from around the country as the first step in the project to update the American scale of river difficulty. We are interested in a creating a consensus about all classes of rapids up to and including low Class V. Once a general consensus is reached, the resulting list of rated rapids will be incorporated into the rating scale and promoted across the country and, hopefully, around the world. The main beneficiary of this project is the boating community at large and especially the paddler who is “climbing the ladder” and stretching him/herself and especially the paddler who is traveling around the country and wishes to stay within her/his skill level.

The plan is to maintain the current classification definitions, add a plus and a minus to Classes 2 through 4, and expand the Class 5 range to an open ended decimal (Class 5.0, 5.1,….) System similar to climbing. Some paddlers are already doing this. Along with this we need to stabilize the system by setting up bench marks, standard rapids if you will, that define the essence of each grade level.

We need your help!! Consensus building requires that as many people as possible participate!! The classification definitions are attached. Please read these definitions.

We would like you to take the attached sheet and fill in the names and difficulty of popular rapids on rivers that you have run at flows that are commonly encountered. Please place them in the category that seems appropriate to a typical paddler who is following somebody through the rapids for the first time. We ask you to use only the following ratings:

Class I
Class II
Class II+
Class III-
Class III
Class III+
Class IV-
Class IV
Class IV+
Class 5.0
Class 5.1
Class 5.2….


That is how the form is made up. There is space for comments at the end if you want to suggest something else. We are open for suggestions and comment. This is a beginning!!

While we do feel there is a need for an open-ended Class 5 system, we feel that 3 divisions of the Class III and IV ratings will be enough.

We have filled in some rapids from the East and Colorodo that we feel fit the definitions. These are meant to give you a benchmark to do your benchmarking from. If you disagree with the placement of our benchmarks… Just cross them out and move them. Please help by returning the form today!!

We especially want to hear from the bicoastal or biregional boaters. Please try to include rapids from as many regions of the country as you have paddled.

Thank you so much for your help.
SYOTR,
Charlie Walbridge Lee Belknap Joe Greiner

If you want to give us more examples than we have left room for, please make copies of the attached sheet.
Please return to: AWA Safety Committee…..

Please note, the following is the International Scale of River Difficulty as it read at the time of this survey, before the 1998 revisions were adopted.

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, 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: Easy. 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: 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.

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.

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 is 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.

Class V: Expert. Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to above average endangerment. 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 mandatory but often difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential for survival.

Class VI: Extreme. One grade more difficult than class V. These runs 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. This class does not represent drops thought to be unrunnable, but may include rapids which are only occasionally run.


Please add your own list to this example (a form is attached). This is why we have written to you!!!

Please include rapids from other parts of the country so we can tie it all together and feel free to change the list below.

Thanks for your help.

Rapid Name(s)
River, Section(s) & State
Level
Your Rating
Powhite Ledges
James, Richmond, VA
5’
1
Ramcat
Middle Yough, PA
1.8
1
Pony Pasture
James, Richmond, VA
5.0
2
Delabar’s Rock
Nantahala, Gorge, NC
3.25
2
Needmore
Little Tennessee, NC
1000
2
Staircase
Shenandoah, WV
3.5’
2
Piddley
Lower Yough, PA
2’
2
Skinner’s Falls
Delaware, PA/NY

2+
Bull Sluice
Shenandoah, VA
3.5’
2+
Lambertville Rapid
Delaware, PA/NY

2+
Camel-Walrus
Lower Yough, PA
2’
3-
Patton’s Run
Nantahala, NC
3.25
3-?,3?
Dartmouth Slalom / Eddy Out
Lower Yough, PA
1.8
3
Powerline
James, Richmond, VA
5’
3
Roller Coaster
Nolichucky, Gorge, NC
2.2
3
Raft Ripper
Arkansas, Browns Canyon, CO
1000
3
Nantahala Falls
Nantahala, Gorge, NC
3.25
3?,3+?
Dimple-Swimmers
Lower Yough, PA
1.6
3+
Slalom Rapids
Tohickon Cr., PA
1.8
3+
Railroad
Esopus, NY
Summer
3+
Double Trouble
Ocoee, Middle, TN
1300
3+
Narrows
Chattooga, Sect. III, SC/GA
2.0
3+
Zoom Flume
Arkansas, Browns Canyon, CO
1000
3+
Powerline Rapids
Rio Grande, Lower Box Cyn., NM
1500
3+
Broken Nose
Ocoee, Middle, TN
1300
4-
Bastard
Upper Yough, MD
2’
4
Maze
Cheat, WV
3.0
4
Sweet’s Falls
Gauley, Upper, WV
2800
4-?,4+?
Fayette Station
New River Gorge, WV
0’
4
Gap Falls
Upper Yough, MD
2.0’
4
Zoom Flume
Arkansas, Browns Canyon, CO
3000
4
Pine View Falls
Cache La Poudre
1500
4
Skull
Colorado, Westwater Cyn, UT
5000
4
Entrance
Chattooga, Sect. IV, SC/GA
1.8
4
Vedge-O-Matic
Ocoee, Middle, TN
1300
4
Middle Keaney
New River Gorge, WV
2.5’
4+
Bull Sluice
Chatooga, Sect. III, SC/GA
2’
4?, 5?
Lower Keaney
New River Gorge, WV
2.5’
4+
Pure Screaming Hell
Lower Gauley, WV
2800
4+
Seven Foot Falls
Chattooga, Sect. IV, SC/GA
1.8
4+
Sunshine
Arkansas, Royal Gorge, CO
2000
4+
Number 4
Arkansas, The Numbers, CO
1000
4+
Rock Garden
Rio Grande, Lower Taos Box, NM
2000
4+
Pillow Rock
Upper Gauley, WV
2800
4+?, 5?
Corkscrew
Chattooga, Sect. IV, SC/GA
1.8’
4+?, 5?
S-Turn
Tygart Gorge, WV
4.5’
5
Insignificant
Upper Gauley, WV
2800
5
Big Splat
Lower Big Sandy Cr., WV
6.2’
5
Pine Creek
Arkansas, Pine Creek, CO
700
5
Number 4
Arkansas, The Numbers, CO
2000
5
Charlie's Choice thru National Falls
Upper Yough, MD
2’
5.1
Lost Paddle
Upper Gauley, WV
2800
5.1
Pine Creek
Arkansas, Pine Creek, CO
1500
5.3


Note: please do not use this form at this time. This is shown only as an example of how the rating “votes” were solicited.
Please use this form (make copies if needed) to create your own list.
Please include rapids from other parts of the country so we can tie it all together.
Thanks for your help.

Rapid Name(s)
River, Section(s) & State
Level
Your Rating

























































































































Please return to: AWA Safety Committee
…..
Note: please do not use this form at this time. This is shown only as an example of how the rating “votes” were solicited.