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Whitewater Rafting 101 
by Diana Bocco October 26, 2005

All you need to know about whitewater rafting before you try it

The thrill of whitewater rafting attracts thousands of enthusiasts every year. If you haven't tried it yet, you're missing out on one of the best adventure trips to be had. Done right, whitewater rafting can be safe and fun for the whole family, from the beginner to the advanced paddlers. Here is a look at all you need to know before you head down the river.


According to Wikipedia (and based on the International Scale of River Difficulty), there are six types of rapids, classified according to navigational difficulty:

  • Class I - Easy. Small waves in fast moving water. Few obstacles.
  • Class II – Novice. Wide channels and rapids that are easy to navigate, without many turns or obstacles. Small waves less than two feet high.
  • Class III - Intermediate. Strong currents require training and ability to maneuver quickly and effectively. From this class on, rafters require a guide. Not suitable for young children.
  • Class IV - Advanced. Powerful rapids for strong paddlers that can handle fierce turns and spins. Drops and waves are common.
  • Class V - Expert. Violent, dangerous rapids, usually through obstructed channels, tight turns, and soaring falls. Requires professional equipment.
  • Class VI - Unrunnable. Likelihood of death in attempting class 6 runs.

Types of Crafts

Kayaks – Kayaks designed for whitewater are usually shorter than sea kayaks and most are made of plastic (although fiberglass kayaks are popular among racers). Kayaks are prevalent because paddlers can easily roll them back upright when flipped (a maneuver known as the "Eskimo Roll").

Rafts – The preferred type of craft for large groups, they are made of inflatable plastic, and can handle almost any type of current.

Catarafts -- Similar to rafts but easier to maneuver, they consist of two inflatable tubes held together by a frame.

Canoes -- Made of fiberglass or plastic, they can handle an Eskimo roll the same way kayaks do. They are either decked (closed) or open, as a typical canoe.



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