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For those seeking to escape the heat and set out on an adventure, white water rafting and kayaking can be exhilarating. As with many outdoor adventure sports, there is a classification system designed to prepare adventurers for the challenges they may encounter. The system is based on the technical difficulties and skill level required to navigate the rapids successfully. The International Scale of River Difficulty rates rivers using roman numerals I-VI. It’s important to realize that even with the rating system, conditions on a river may change the difficulty levels of any set of rapids. In times of low water, rapids typically considered class IV may become class III. However, during periods of high water, the same rapids could become more like class V. Most rivers have a range of rapid levels, so individual sections of a river may consist of varying degrees of difficulty. Braving the rapids holds significant risk, so white water adventurers must be adequately prepared and capable of handling the challenge the rapids present. Though the classification system for white water rapids is not an exact science, understanding the rating system is essential for those new to the sport. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you out.

Class I
Class I rapids typically have calm but moving water with few to no obstructions. There may be small waves that push and pull at the boat, but overall these rapids are a pleasant way to relax and spend time on the water. 

Class II
With Class II rapids, there can be waves that reach up to three feet and are easily seen. These rapids have wide channels with clear passages. Any obstructions are obvious, and some maneuvering may be required as you may encounter gentle curves and occasional sandbanks. These rapids are great for beginners.

Class III
These rapids consist of many waves, which may be high (up to four feet) and somewhat irregular. You’ll encounter rocks, narrow passages, and eddies. These rapids require some experience to run, and scouting may be necessary.

Class IV
Scouting is often necessary for class IV rapids. They are long and powerful rapids with large waves that are unavoidable and numerous potential hazards. Frequently passages through these rapids are tight and may require quick thinking and skillful maneuvering. These rapids are not for the inexperienced. 

Class V
Class V rapids contain all the challenges of class IV rapids and then some. They are incredibly rough and violent, with many obstacles and large drops and tight chutes. They must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are severe, and preparations for rescue should be made in advance. They pose a significant risk to life should things go wrong. These rapids are only for highly experienced rafters with rescue skills.

Class VI
Class VI rapids are nearly impossible and extraordinarily difficult. They are extremely dangerous, and the threat of death is constant. Commercial outfitters won’t run these rapids. 

A white water rafting or kayaking trip can be a truly exhilarating way of experiencing the awesome power of nature; however, it’s essential to match the river’s rating to your skills and abilities. Knowing in advance what you may encounter is helpful, but always keep in mind that unforeseen circumstances can occur. Always take into account the current river conditions before venturing out and take the appropriate precautions to ensure everyone in your party will be safe and have a good time.