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Just How Safe Is Whitewater Rafting?

Is Whitewater Rafting Safe?

Whitewater rafting is a popular past time and while it might be synonymous with thrill seeking and high risk, X-games type behavior, the truth is that there are many different levels of whitewater rafting.

While this isn’t the type of sport that is going to appeal to everyone, nature lovers and thrill seekers can both find a spot they love within this broad and often life changing outdoor recreational activity.

Introduction to Whitewater Rafting

So to answer the question of “How safe is whitewater rafting?” it’s important to understand that this depends heavily on a variety of factors, perhaps none more so than experience and the level of the waterway that is being tackled. There is a grading system that helps determine what level of experience is required for a slice of river.

Basically, the larger the number, the more challenging the whitewater route is. Generally speaking the rating system goes from I to VI, although some people are more familiar with the I to V system as some systems don’t recognize the extremely challenging Class VI.

Rafting Danger Classes

whitewater rafting class ratings

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Class I means the water moves, but it’s a relatively slow current without challenge. Think of a nice, slow, and relaxing move gently down the river whether rafting or kayaking.

Class II is mildly challenging with waves up to three feet at most, and some minor movement around easy to see rocks and obstructions. This and Class I are good entry level courses for new whitewater rafters to try.

Class III rapids are where the excitement really starts to pile up. Waves can be up to four feet in height, and this is where you start to see narrow passages you need to guide the raft through, and maybe even some water that gets over the sides and into the boat. In other words, this is where you start going from beginner to experienced whitewater rafter. Your first Class III waves should always be done with a guide.

Class Breakdowns

Class IV are for experienced guides and rafters only, with long sections of narrow open areas, fast water, and difficult & turbulent rapids.

Class V rapids are ones that have everything seen in I-IV with some serious spinning waves and tricky navigation. These are serious rapids and are dangerous to inexperienced rafters.

Class VI is another step up. Generally speaking these are heavy rapids that aren’t popularly guided – in other words only for professionals who are looking for uncharted adventures.

As a side note, if you’re going to take on a whitewater rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, they use a special rating system that goes from Class I through Class X. In this situation it’s important to talk to local whitewater guides who will have a better idea of how the special Grand Canyon rating system compares to your specific experiences and ability.

In Conclusion

How safe is whitewater rafting? That all depends on your experience level and staying within the river courses that equal your specific skills and experience. As long as you’re careful to stay within your limits and to go with experienced guides, you will be safe in most circumstances.

As with any water based sport, you need to respect the water and wear the appropriate safety gear like helmets and life jackets.

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