White Water Rafting & River Grading

White Water Rafting In The U.K.

So most people have heard about white water rafting and understand the basics of what happens, i.e., you get into a big inflatable boat and go down the river and run the rapids! We find ourselves getting asked some very weird and wonderful questions about our activities but there are also a lot of common themes so we thought it would be a good idea to answer some here! So here goes!

What Do The River Grades Mean?

Rivers and rapids are graded on an international scale of 1 to 6 (with the exception of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado which has it’s own unique grading system of 1 to 10.) Most rivers that are used for white water rafting in the U.K. vary from grade 2 to grade 4 as this offers the most fun without the risks involved in rafting grade 5 or above. For the most part, if a complete novice was to raft down a grade 3 or grade 5 they may not see or feel much difference in terms of excitement level, however the level of risk from grade 3 to grade 5 increases significantly.

Below we have added a description of the international river grades and also added what we feel is our view of what to expect and who it may be suitable for.

Class I:
Easy fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy. Suitable for anyone, gentle rafting we have trips available for age 5+ such as our River Rafting Safari.

Class II:
Novice straight forward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+. Suitable for anyone, gentle rafting we have trips available for age 5+ such as our River Rafting Safari.

Class III:
Intermediate rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.

Great fun rafting, can feel big, bouncy & exhilarating without too much risk, we have trips available for age 8+ such as our River Garry White Water Rafting Trip.

Class IV:
Advanced intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down.

Great fun rafting, can feel bigger, bouncier & more exhilarating, we have trips available for age 8+ such as our River Garry White Water Rafting Trip.

Class V:
Expert extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level o f fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.

Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class V is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc. Each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. That is, going from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.

Active Highs do not commercially raft class 5 rapids (we save that for our days off!)

Class VI
Extreme and Exploratory Rapids runs of this classification are rarely attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapid has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.

Not even on our days off! (maybe 20 years ago before kids came along!)

It is also worth mentioning that rivers can vary in grade and difficulty with fluctuating water levels and are not always constant unless dam controlled. The River Garry is a dam controlled river that flows at a constant level all season unless we have a significant flood which normally happens in the winter (when everyone is wrapped up warm in front of the fire).

What Do I Wear?

Active Highs supply neoprene wetsuits for your comfort and to keep you warmer when rafting. These suits are best worn with either just swim wear or a thin rash vest or thermal top underneath but nothing cotton as this will just make you colder. We also ask clients to bring along a pair of old trainers (sneakers for our North American friends) that can get wet but not sandals, Crocs or flimsy water or beach shoes as these tend to get pulled off your feet in fast moving water.

Will It Be Cold?

This very much depends on a few things. The time of year, air temperature, your own tolerance to cold and water and what you are wearing. The best way to stay warm is to wear our wetsuits and keep paddling!

Is There  A Weight Limit?

This is a tough one. We do not have a weight limit as such as peoples size and shapes can vary. You need to be able to fit into our largest wetsuits xxl & our XL buoyancy aids for safety reasons. Our guides also need to be able to pull you back into a raft if you go over the side into the water.

What Are The Age Restrictions?

We have an age limit of 5 + for our grade 2 River Rafting Safari Trips and a guideline minimum age of 7 + for our white water rafting trips on the River Garry as long as the little ones are water confident and can swim.

Is It Safe?

There is an inherent risk with all outdoor activities, as there is in most things that we do in our day to day lives like crossing the road or driving a car. Part of the attraction of outdoor activities such as white water rafting is that it is adventurous and exhilarating and to try and remove all risk would dilute the experience.  Having said that, we try and manage all risks as much as possible by using good quality equipment, having professionally trained and qualified staff and good operating procedures. The most common incidents that we deal with on the river are bumps and bruises and have had no serious rafting incidents to date. To be honest, more people get injured playing football than they do in the outdoors!

When Can I Go White Water Rafting?

Most of our rafting takes place on the River Garry between the end of March and end of October when we have water releases scheduled from the dam at the top of the river. For further information on dates you can check our online booking system or check out the dates on our previous post.

We look forward to seeing you on the river!