Safe paddling requires preparation, proper equipment, and experience.
It is critical that paddlers understand the distinction between the Levels of Difficulty or Class of river sections so they can choose the sections to paddle safely. The classification levels of difficulty of rapids in this guide are based on normal in-season flow levels.
Level of Difficulty (Class) of River Sections
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, except for experts. Boaters in covered canoes or kayaks should be able to Eskimo roll.
Class V. Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes that nearly always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult, and significant hazard to life may result in the event of a mishap. Ability to Eskimo roll in kayaks and canoes is essential.
Class VI. Difficulties of Class V carried to extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only, after close study and with all precautions taken.
• Before you go, consult your river guide to match the skill level and experience of the group
with the level of difficulty of the section to be paddled.
• Know whether and where hazards and mandatory portages exist.
• Choose a trip length appropriate for the time available, such as limited daylight in the winter.
• Know how to get help in case of an emergency, including escape trails and roads
near the river.
• Be aware of flow levels and the recommended flow amounts for the section to be paddled.
See River Flow Information in the Resources tab.
• Wear a properly fitted PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) while on the water, and
wear a helmet in whitewater. For information on PFDs see www.boatoregon.com.
• Be sure to have appropriate flotation in your boat.
• If attaching equipment to the boat, avoid entanglements by using recommended ties.
• Dress appropriately for weather and water conditions, including air and water temperature.
Avoid hypothermia, and carry spare dry clothes. River footwear is advised, especially in
• Carry a supply of food and water adequate for the trip.
• In whitewater, carry rescue equipment and know how to use it.
See Safety Information under "Resources- General Information" tab.
• Paddle with a group, not by yourself.
• Leave a float plan of your trip with a friend or family member. The float plan should include
the section to be paddled, the put-in and take-out locations and times, and the names of
party members and emergency contact information.
• Match the experience and skill level of all participants with the level of difficulty (class) of the
section to be paddled.
• Know the hazards—such as strainers, waterfalls, logjams, and undercut rocks—and
where they are.
• Learn how to rescue yourself and others in the event of capsizing. Set up rescue procedures
before running dangerous rapids.
• Know which side of the river and where to exit for a portage.
• Be able to read the water and effectively steer and propel your boat.
• Do not overload your boat, and avoid standing or shifting weight.
• Never paddle under the influence of alcohol or drugs that will impair your ability.
Always wear a life jacket with a whistle. In Oregon, children under 13 years are required by law to wear life jackets when in boats that are underway. Bring extra clothing and keep it in a dry bag. Do not wear cotton—use polypropylene and fleece in cool weather.
Consider taking the following for a day trip:
• Extra paddle
• Extra clothes
• Dry bag for valuables, food, and clothes
• Hat with brim
• First aid kit
• River guide
• Plenty of drinking water
• River shoes
• Safety whistle
• Suntan lotion
• Pump for inflatables
• Fire starter