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Rapids Classification

The following rapids classification is reprinted from the safety code of the American Whitewater Affiliation.

Class I. Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II. Easy rapids with waves up to 3 feet, and wide, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering is required.

Class III. Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering. May require scouting from shore.

Class IV. Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is often necessary, and conditions make rescue difficult. Generally not possible for open canoes. Boaters in covered canoes and kayaks should be able to Eskimo Roll.

Class V. Extremely difficult, long and very violent rapids with highly congested routes which nearly always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap. Ability to eskimo roll is essential for kayaks and canoes.

Class VI. Difficulties of class V carried to the extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only, after close study and with all precautions taken.

Riffle. A shallow spot extending across the river bed with rapids.

Eddy. Current that is deflected by an obstruction or bend in the river and is moving in a circular motion or opposite directions.

Line. Walking and pulling or carrying the canoe through or around shallow water or rapids.

Rudimentary Cautions

Following is an advisory list of rudimentary cautions and basic points. For a complete list of safety procedures, consult guides such as The American Red Cross Whitewater in an Open Canoe and the Appalachian Mountain Club River Guide.

1) Sudden changes in water level can result from storms and water releases from dams. Faster water, increasing difficulty of rapids, and an increase in the number of rapids can result from an increase in the water flow. Be alert for such changes even in mid-summer or fall.

2) When the river is low many normally hidden rocks and ledges appear. Choose a route through these areas by finding the deepest channel to avoid running aground in the shallows.

3) Pull over above each section of rapids. This will allow you time to check for hazards and the best navigable route through these waters.

4) Since the wind has a tendency to blow upriver (particularly in the lower reaches) travel may be slower than anticipated. Allow for this on a windy day and plan to paddle harder and to spend more time on the river to get to your destination.

5) If you want to start and finish at the same point it is easier to go upstream first and then float downstream to your destination.

6) If you are unfamiliar with a stretch of the river, go ashore and walk upstream to scout the area and assure a safe approach to potential hazards such as rapids or dams.

7) Most river campsites are primitive in that they are not routinely maintained and do not have fire rings or picnic tables unless otherwise noted. Please leave the campsite as you found it. In Reach 7 primitive river camping is allowed by permit only at some Winooski Valley Park District parks located in this stretch of river. (See Reach 7 map)

8) When the river is at flood stage or excessively high water it should be considered off limits to all parties.

9) Keep your weight centered and low in the canoe. A kneeling position enhances stability and paddling efficiency.

10) Do not change places in a canoe while on the water. Instead, go ashore unless you are familiar with the proper technique.

11) If your canoe upsets, immediately get to the upstream end so that you cannot be crushed between a rock and your boat by the force of the current. Always keep your feet at the surface and look downstream for an eddy. Hold onto your boat. There are few exceptions to this rule. It is your biggest and best life preserver and you will be easier for rescuers to spot. The only time you should release your boat and swim for safety is if it will improve your chances, especially if the water is cold or dangerous rapids lie ahead. Do not attempt to stand in fast-moving water; if your foot wedges on the bottom, fast water will push you under and keep you there. Get to slow or very shallow water before attempting to stand or walk.

12) In rough water fasten all gear (non-floating) securely to prevent loss.

13) A spare paddle in the canoe can prevent disaster. Always carry one and keep it close, secure, and readily accessible.

14) A life jacket is required for all parties in the canoe by Vermont laws. A snug fitting, vest-type preserver offers back and shoulder protection as well as the floatation needed to swim safely in whitewater. Without a life jacket you would not be able to float high enough to see where you are.

15) Boating alone is discouraged. The minimum party is three people or two craft.

16) The river contains many dams. Review all maps carefully and become familiar with the locations of these dams. Some, but not all, dams are proceeded by orange and white floating barrels which are placed in the river on or about Memorial Day and removed on or about November 1st. NEVER PROCEED PAST ANY SUCH BARRIERS. Always proceed with caution when approaching any dam. It is always possible that the floating barrels may not be in the river.

17) Remember that flows will vary downstream of a dam. Some dams are equipped with audio safety warnings which alert downstream users when generation will begin. Please be careful if you hear a warning.

Please remember that this is an advisory safety list only. For a thorough knowledge of safety procedures consult canoe safety guides.