River Grading Systems

Rivers are graded in order to provide an indication of difficulty and to help paddlers to match their abilities with the conditions.  It is important to remember that any grade given is only ever a rough indication as moving water is a dynamic environment that changes dramatically with water levels, weather conditions and many other factors.


International River Grading System

I - Easy

Occasional small rapids, waves regular and low.  The correct course easy to find, but care is needed with obstacles like pebble banks, protective works, fallen trees etc, especially on narrow rivers.

II - Medium

Fairly frequent rapids, usually with regular waves, easy eddies, or whirlpools.  Course generally easy to recognise.

III - Difficult

Rapids numerous and with fairly high, irregular waves, broken water, eddies and whirlpools.  Course not always easily recognisable.

IV - Very Difficult

Long and extended stretches of rapids with high irregular waves, difficult broken water, eddies and whirlpools.  Course often difficult to recognise.  INSPECTION from the BANK nearly always necessary.

V -  Extremely Difficult

Long unbroken stretches of rapids with difficult and completely irregular broken water, submerged rocks, very difficult whirlpools and very fast eddies. INSPECTION from the BANK ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.

VI - Absolute Limit Of Difficulty

All previously mentioned difficulties increased to the limit of practicability.  Cannot be attempted without RISK OF DEATH.


Grading is merely another weapon in the canoeists armoury to allow a clearer evaluation of a set of circumstances, and should on no account be used as a substitute for prior inspection.

More in this category: « Safety Local Rivers »


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