Whitewater Rafting

Rafting is a recreational activity utilizing a raft to navigate a river or other body of water.

Whitewater rafting can be a dangerous activity if the proper precautions are not taken. Below is a generally accepted classification system used to classify rivers for rafting and boating difficulty:

Class I - Easy. Fast moving water with riffles and small waves.
Class II – Novice. Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels.
Class III - Intermediate. Strong eddies and current, requiring skilled maneuvering.
Class IV - Advanced. Powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water.
Class V - Expert. Long, obstructed, or violent rapids which expose paddlers to a high degree of danger, requiring expertise and reliable equipment for safe passage.
Class VI - Unrunnable. Likelihood of death, or destruction of equipment in attempting class 6 runs.

As expertise increases, and equipment becomes more durable, or reliable, what was once considered class 6 becomes class "5 plus", and eventually class five. The Grand Canyon has swallowed whole expeditions, leaving only fragments of boats, yet it is now run by commercial outfitters hundreds of times each year, with relatively untrained passengers.

Whitewater is formed in a rapid, when a river's gradient drops enough to form a bubbly, or aerated and unstable current; the frothy water appears white. The term is also used loosely to refer to less-turbulent but still agitated flows.

Classification of whitewater

The most widely used grading system is the International Grading System, where whitewater (either an individual rapid, or the entire river) is classed in six categories from class I (the easiest and safest) to class VI (the most difficult and most dangerous). The grade reflects both the technical difficulty and the danger associated with a rapid, with grade I referring to flat or slow moving water with few hazards, and grade VI referring to the hardest rapids which are very dangerous even for expert paddlers, and are rarely run. Grade-VI rapids are sometimes downgraded to grade-V or V+ if they have been run successfully. Harder 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 where 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.

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