River difficulty rating in rafting, kayaking and whitewater sports

River difficulty rating in rafting, kayaking and whitewater sports

You would like to go rafting or kayaking on a river but you don't know what the difficulty of a whitewater trip is.

You would like to know more about River Classes.

YOURAFT is there to explain everything to you on this subject.

The Principle

As in many outdoor sports, the environment in which we are led to evolve is rated, classified by level of difficulty and commitment. This allows professionals and practitioners to give each other reliable information on a precise route, a given itinerary, while being based on an official scale known and accepted by all.

For example, in France in Climbing, the difficulty of the routes is rated from 3 to 9 by adding to each number the letter a, b or c (e.g. 6a). In Canyoning we rate the difficulty according to the verticality, the aquatic aspect and the commitment on a scale from 1 to 7 (ex: V4A3II), in Via Ferrata we rate the difficulty from F to ED where F corresponds to "easy" and ED to "extremely difficult"...


rafting sur la basse guisane à Serre Chevalier vue de dos


Difficulty levels of the whitewater courses

In whitewater and therefore when rafting or kayaking, the rating of the courses includes a rating of technical difficulty as well as a notion of commitment related to risk in case of unforeseen events.

Each level of difficulty is calculated according to the strength and size of the water movements and the complexity of the passages.

This difficulty corresponds to a normal water flow for the river but if there is a very high flow, it can be increased. For example, a level 3 rapid may be equivalent to a level 4 rapid in the event of high water.

How the technical aspect is rated

Technical difficulty levels range from 1 to 6. These levels are called River Classes, written in Roman numerals.

For example in the valley of Serre Chevalier on the Guisane :

  • The Upper-Guisane from Monêtier-les-Bains to Chantemerle is Class II-III because the course alternates between level 2 and 3 rapids.
  • The Lower-Guisane from Chantemerle to Briançon is Class III-IV because the course alternates between level 3 and 4 rapids.

Sometimes one or more numbers can be added in brackets. This makes it possible to specify that one or more rapids are of a higher level than the general rating of the course.

For example the course of the Durance Gorges is noted:Class III-IV (5,6,X). This means that the general level of the course is an alternation of level 3 and 4 rapids with punctually one or more level 5 and 6 rapids as well as one or more impassable for the letter "X".

The 6 river classes

  • Class 1 : Very easy level, part of a calm river with a smooth and regular current forming at most only a few waves. Obstacles easy to avoid with little practice. It is easy to swim back to the bank. Class 1 courses are often used to discover the first sensations of canoeing in a river.
  • Class 2: Beginner level, course with simple and obvious rapids to be crossed. The current becomes more irregular but the waves and other water movements remain of average size. This level of difficulty is ideal for learning river kayaking or rafting with children.
  • Class 3: Intermediate level, part of the river with irregular rapids with moderate sized waves and obstacles to overcome. Crossing the rapids requires good control of the boat and good balance. When swimming, the return to the bank remains relatively easy but is longer than in the lower classes. In Rafting, this level of difficulty is ideal for families or groups to experience the thrill of whitewater while remaining accessible to all.
  • Class 4: Sporty and advanced level, difficult river section with rapids that are not entirely visible in advance. This sometimes requires prior spotting. The water movements are powerful and the slope is important. In case of swimming, recovery is more difficult and may require little outside help. In rafting as in kayaking, this level is sensational and sporty to navigate.
  • Class 5: Expert level. Very complicated rapids requiring a great control of the trajectory with the boat. It is the length of the rapids, the power of the water movements and the important slope that make the rapids very demanding both technically and physically. In Rafting these rapids can be navigated by a sports team, with good paddling technique and a perfect knowledge of river safety rules.
  • Class 6 : Navigability limit. The crossing of these rapids is extreme and can be perilous. Reconnaissance is essential and when it is possible it is imperative to set up a collective safety system allowing to recover a swimmer. Class 6 corresponds, for example, to a series of major falls in gorges or extremely steep rapids.
  • impassable X : It is a passage or a portion of the river that is not crossable until proven otherwise. The impassable may be classified as a 6 if a person can successfully navigate through it under normal navigation conditions.


photo d'une rivière engorgée


How is the commitment rated

The notion of commitment in the rating of a river run corresponds to the difficulty to leave the run in case of unforeseen circumstances. This goes from 1 to 3 and is noted E followed by the number.

For example, in the case of the Haute Guisane, the rating of the commitment is "E1" because it is very easy to reach the road from the river.

The different levels of whitewater commitment

  • Commitment 1 (E1): easy access to the river and quick escape close to the road.
  • Commitment 2 (E2): Difficult escape route and long time to reach a road.
  • Commitment 3 (E3): Exit very difficult or almost impossible without outside help.


Examples of rivers rating around Briançon


  • The Guisane in the valley of Serre Chevalier Briançon, Class II-III E1 for the upper course and Class III-IV E1 for the lower course.
  • The Durance between Saint-clément-sur-Durance and Embrun, Class II-III E1 with the passage of the famous Rabioux wave.
  • The Guil on the classic course, renowned for its beauty and technicality, Class III-IV(5) E2-E3.
  • The Ubaye on the classic course, Class III-IV E1.
  • The Gyr, glacier river, Class IV(5) E2.
  • The Gyronde, magnificent alpine river, Class III-IV E1.


rafting sur la basse guisane à Briançon vue de dessus avec un guide YOURAFT


How do I choose the difficulty of a river trip if I want to go rafting with my family or with a group?

If you want to go rafting in Serre Chevalier, in the Alps or elsewhere, you may be wondering what difficulty to choose in relation to the level of the group and your desires. Here are some elements of answer.

Up to Class 2 with a few passages of Class 3, in rafting the course will be accessible to everyone provided they know how to swim, this corresponds most of the time to a minimum age of 6 or 7 years. This type of course is rather easy, with little risk of falling into the water unintentionally. It is therefore ideal for a discovery of whitewater or with children. The Family Rafting Trip on the Upper-Guisane in Serre Chevalier, Class II-III, falls into this category.

From class 3 and 4, in rafting the course becomes sporty and technical but also more sensational, perfect for thrill seekers. However, rafting companies may set an age limit for children. For example for the rafting course Rafting Sensation Trip on the Lower-Guisane in Serre Chevalier of Class III-IV, the age limit is 16 years old minimum.

Classes 4 - 5 and above are technical, physical and sensational rafting courses. These courses are designed for sporty, adventurous people who already have experience in canoeing or rafting. The age limit is often set at 18 years old minimum. The integral Guil or the Royal Ubaye Gorge are magnificent courses in this category.

During a company seminar, an EVJF or EVG, to combine challenge, sensations, team spirit and accessibility the category class 3 - 4 is ideal. The Rafting Sensation Trip will suit you perfectly if you take a trip to Serre Chevalier.

To learn more about rafting and to prepare a whitewater trip in Serre Chevalier, this article will answer your questions.

And now that you've learned how to rate river trips,

Discover our offers on rafting and canoeing trips in Serre Chevalier and kayaking in the Hautes-Alpes.

Rafting and Kayak in Serre-Chevalier


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