The roaring white water rapids of America are truly the most organic sources of pleasure and adventure you can find out in the wild. There’s something unique and special about the sensation of the waves, the history of the rivers, and the natural surroundings. Traditionally, rafts are used for white water sports, but for extreme white water applications, sport jet boats are also popular fun.

Many organizations throughout the US utilize the International Scale of River Difficulty, which is a classification system that rates the difficulty and danger of a specific river’s rapids. This numbered system is a solid starting point for what conditions to expect once you’re out there. To simplify the process, we’ve compiled a general guide on this rating system. Here’s what to know about the river rapids class system.

As with all rating systems, these guidelines also have an aspect of subjectivity that you must consider. Various rivers contain various rating levels, which is what you really need to know about the river rapids class system. One class is not ideal for everyone.

Class I Rapids: Float the Boat

Class I rapids are ideal for all types of nature-lovers or outdoor sports enthusiasts. A beginner-level river has stretches of fast-moving water along with gentle rapids or small ripples, where participants can sightsee. Class I waters are mellow enough for self-rescue and safe for swimmers—there are few to no visible obstructions.

Class II Rapids: Novice Level

Class II rapids offer good splashes with straightforward, clear channels and medium-sized ripples. Paddling or maneuvering is easy. Any obstacles and hazards are in plain sight and relatively effortless to avoid.

Class III Rapids: Intermediate Level

Class III rapids are moderately irregular—and potentially difficult to maneuver—with some narrower channels. Waves are generally higher, larger, and effectively complex for rafters or boaters to control.

Class IV Rapids: Advanced Level

Class IV rapids are powerful but still predictable in nature. Long rapids, greater waves, considerable drops, and sharp maneuvers are common. Due to constricted passages and the intensity of the turbulent water, swimmers face a higher risk if they need rescued.

Class V Rapids: Expert Level

As the highest level and commercial limit, Class V rapids are undoubtedly difficult, dangerous, and violent. Their unpredictability is for experts only. Anything can happen in these demanding waves—proper equipment, extensive experience, and adequate rescue skills are absolutely required.

Precautions are necessary at any level for a safe and thrilling experience. If you’re on the lookout for an exciting adventure in the Pacific Northwest, River Adventures has the perfect white water jet boat tour for you. Our guided boat rides in Hells Canyon provide a point of view like no other. Our USCG-certified jet boats take participants through challenging white water in the deepest and most challenging parts of the canyon, with stops for rest and relaxation along the way. Book a tour with us today to experience all the rugged beauty that Hells Canyon has to offer.