River Grading & Area Definitions

It is important to note that the following grading system is meant as a general guide with regard to river grades. The Training, Coaching & Accreditation Scheme is based upon the Training & Development Committee’s interpretation of these grading’s.

The final decision, however, as to the grading of a river’s conditions is ultimately the responsibility of an Instructor who must make decisions based upon experience, knowledge, ability, and level of qualification.

Grade 1

Flat Water

Water is stationary or extremely slow moving and without any obstructions.

Grade 2

Moderately Difficult

The way down a river is clear but simple obstructions do exist. Small stoppers and small drops can be present. There are places where the flow accelerates. There is a choice of routes.

Grade 3


There is a route that is easily recognisable from the water. Waves can be irregular. Boulders and obstructions can be numerous. Stoppers and small eddies exist. Inspection is advisable.

Grade 4

Very Difficult

The route is not always clear and inspection is advisable. Rapids are continuous and breakouts are few and small. Stoppers are powerful. Continual maneuvering with precise control and good decision making is required.

Grade 5

Extremely Difficult

Inspection is essential because serious dangers can exist. Large drops, narrow passages, very complex boulder fields, ever changing water and difficult holes are characteristic of this grade. Difficulties are continuous.

Area Definitions for Inland Waterways

These definitions imply weather conditions, which are not in themselves likely to cause problems. Care must be exercised when water temperatures are low.

Very Sheltered Inland WaterRiversSpecified sites on slow moving rivers.
CanalsCanals with bank side access and egress and which have a minimum of commercial traffic.
LakesSmall lakes which do not have difficult landing areas and which are not large enough for problems to occur if there is a sudden change in conditions.
Sheltered Inland WaterRiversFlat slow moving rivers without weirs or rapids.
LakesDiscretion and common sense must apply when considering the use of lakes. This definition includes lakes with a diameter of no more than 250 metres from shore to shore. To paddle in offshore breezes on large lakes requires the same degree of caution as for the sea

Moderate Inland Waters


Grade II rivers and equivalent weirs.


This definition includes lakes of up to two miles diameter. Caution should to be exercised while paddling on lakes and this definition excludes conditions where there are offshore wind conditions of above Force 4.

Advanced Rivers and LakesRiversGrade III + rivers
LakesVery large lakes.

Area Definitions for the Sea

In all cases the wind and weather conditions must be favourable.

Enclosed harbours with a minimum of commercial traffic, enclosed on three sides. Where there is minimal possibility of being blown off shore.Small enclosed bays where there is minimal possibility of being blown offshore.Defined beaches (a short section of beach with easy landing throughout, no tidal races, or overfalls) – winds not above Force 3. Force 2 if offshore, when the greatest of caution should be exercised.The upper reaches of some suitable, slow moving, estuaries.

A stretch of coastline or estuary in close proximity to the shoreline with easy landing and not involving tidal streams, tidal races, or overfallsWinds not above Force 3. Force 2 if offshore, when the greatest of caution should be exercised.Open crossings of in excess of two miles are specifically excluded in this definition.The upper reaches of some estuaries.

Any journey on the sea where tidal races or overfalls may be encountered which cannot be avoided.Sections of coastline where difficult landings may be encountered or where landings may not be possible.Difficult sea states and/or stronger winds (Force 5 or above)