Paddling the Chesapeake: River Classes
Paddling the Chesapeake: River Classes
A couple paddles down a Bay tidal
creek, a great example of a Class I
water trail.

Many rivers and streams throughout the US that are suitable for paddling are graded by how difficult or challenging they are. Assuming average water flows, these areas of water are graded on a scale of I - VI; I (one) being the easiest and VI (six) the most challenging and extremely dangerous. Many of the water trails within the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network are classified as Class I or II, which are suited for beginner or intermediate paddlers. Only a few are equal to or harder then a level III (three) or IV (four), which means only more experienced paddlers should attempt these trails.

However, paddlers must understand that rivers do not always fit easily into one category. The degree of difficulty for a water trail may change depending on fluctuations in the water levels, downed trees, bad weather, or other disturbances. Use the knowledge of local outfitters, guides or other paddlers to help determine how difficult a river or stretches of it may be.

Listed below are the definitions of each classification. As you browse the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network water trail web pages, look to see how that river is classified and plan your trip accordingly.

Class I
EASY – Usually is flat or moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions within the water and any that appear are easily avoided. The best route down the river is easily recognized.
Class II
MEDIUM – Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Waves may be up to three feet in height. Easy to medium chutes, ledges, or falls. Routes along the river are still easy to recognize and maneuver.
Class III
DIFFICULT – Rapids are longer and rougher than Class II. Waves numerous, high, irregular, rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering, scouting usually needed. Maneuvering with this class of river requires good operator and boating equipment.
Class IV
VERY DIFFICULT – Long, difficult sections of rapids with high irregular waves, breakers, powerful back eddies, whirlpools, sharp bends, and constricted canyons. Some areas may have powerful rollers and undertow. Passages may be difficult to scout and powerful and precise maneuvering is required. This type of class demands expert boating skills.
Class V
EXTREMELY DIFFICULT –Long and violent rapids, sometimes for long periods without interruption, the riverbed may be extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient, planning to run this type of river requires careful and close study. All possible precautions must be taken and only the most experienced paddlers should attempt this class.
Class VI
EXTREMELY DANGEROUS – All whitewater Class VI rapids are considered nearly impossible and extremely dangerous. These rivers are run only in the best of conditions. For teams of experts only, after very close study has been made and all precautions have been taken.

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