The skill levels suggested are a guide to help you decide the grade of river to paddle. For additional information, click here.


River Grade


Skills Suggested


Passages clear except for minor obstructions. Small, regular rapids. Easily navigated passages.

Knows the basic strikes and can competently handle the boat in smooth water. (Novice)


Most passages clear, though may be narrow. Fairly frequent rapids. Regular, medium-sized waves, low ledges, sweepers and logjams may be present.

Requires competent maneuvering. Can effectively use all the basic strokes, ferry and eddy in smooth flowing water. Knows the basics of reading water. Developing rescue skills. (Novice to Intermediate)


Rapids numerous. Waves high, powerful, irregular, exposed rocks and strong eddies. Must be scouted prior to running.

Can negotiate fast, turbulent waters which require complex sequences of maneuvers. Can give assistance to swamped boats. (Intermediate to Advanced)


Long stretches of difficult rapids. Waves high, powerful and irregular; dangerous exposed rocks, boiling eddies; ledges, passages difficult to scout.

Powerful and precise maneuvering required. Preferably run with a previously experienced leader. (Experts only)


Very difficult. Considerable risk.

(Teams of experts only)


Extraordinarily difficult. Portage mandatory.



- Many Alberta rivers are very cold, hypothermia is a very real and constant danger. Overestimating skill levles and underestimating grade can lead to potentially risky situations.

- These guides are for river paddling. Flatwater has it's own guide and rating system. The club will be posting them shortly.

- A beginner is not a paddler who has stepped into a boat for the first time, but one with knowledge of the basic paddling strokes. Skills shown are those preferred for a certain grade of river. If you would like to try a higher graded trip, discuss it with the leader beforehand.

- In tandem paddling, the team must be able to maneuver the boat as required, but both paddlers do not necessarily have to be equally skilled. However, both paddlers should posses the minimum skill level, as a boat is only as capable as its least experienced crew member. No amount of skill can be transferred in an emergency. 

- River grades are given for normal flow conditions. Very high or very low water levels may markedly affect the difficulty, in either direction, so marginal skills may be inadequate under certain conditions.

- For wilderness canoe/camping or extended trips, all paddlers should be thoroughly competent in the skills required for that grade of river. The group should also have related camping, first aid and survival skills.


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