More Details on Rafting
River Classification       What to do if you fall out!


River Classification

Men have rated women since the beginning of time, but they only started getting serious about rating rivers 10 to 15 years ago. Today there's an international, six-level classification system that ranks rivers according to how much danger they pose to rafters. So what can you really expect from a Class IV rapid? A Six Flags log-flume ride? A cruise through a car wash in a convertible? A swirling, hungry hole from which no man has ever emerged alive? Below, the straight dope on the river-rating system:

Class I: An easy, gentle rapid with small ripples. Basically, your bathtub without all that hair in the drain.

Class II: This water is definitely moving. You'll hit small but regular waves, and brush up against a few rocks and other obstacles. In general, though, the rapid will be clear with a wide passage for your raft. You'll give a few yips and yeehaws, but these are no-brainers, even for rookie paddlers.

Class III: Here's where the real fun starts. On a Class III rapid, the waves come harder, faster, and with enough force to cover the raft. You could hit a small falls or a rapid that, although clear, has a narrow passage, so that some maneuvering is required. You'll get a taste for the river's power, and your girlfriend will grab your arm. Fall out of the boat here and you'll get knocked around, but you won't fear for your life.

Class IV: Adrenaline time. The jump between Class III and IV is dramatic: These are difficult rapids, high waves, and deep holesóany one of which can flip your boat. Because the currents are stronger and there are boulders in the middle of the rapid, precise maneuvering is required. Land in the river and there's a good chance of serious injury.

Class V: Make a mistake on a Class V rapid and you could end up dead. Really. These are exceedingly violent rapids with long, rocky stretches of white water, big drops, powerful currents, and steep gradients. Only for advanced rafters taking the greatest precautions.

Class Vl: Unrunnable by commercial rafts. Don't even think about thinking about it.

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OverBoard!
(what to do if you fall out!)

One minute youíre paddling exuberantly downriver, checking out rock formations and overhanging trees; the next youíre bobbing through overhead waves, gasping for breath. This is when things get very hairy, very fast.

Youíll be cold and disoriented, and your first reaction will be to swim for the boat. But unless you can reach it in two or three quick strokes, donít even try. Instead, get into what the guides call swimmerís position. Lie on your back, looking downstream. You want to be able to see the boulders, tree stumps, and waves that will be coming toward you. Keep your feet in front of you and your toes out of the water - if your feet catch under a rock, you can easily drown. If you still have your paddle, donít let it go - itíll help you steer; and use your feet to bounce yourself off any obstacles.

The guide will be barking instructions - follow them if you can. But if the waterís big, youíll be panicking and looking for the nearest way out of the river. It may be tempting to try to swim for shore, but this is often the wrong decision: The riverís edge is often rockier and more perilous than the middle of the river. If you stay in midstream, chances are youíd be moving faster than the raft. In this case, the guide may toss you a weighted throw bag - their range is 50 to 60 feet - and then reel you in. If that fails, youíll probably have to float down the river to a calmer spot.

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