Using a standard system to rate the skill level or river flow needed gives you an idea of the difficulty and runnability of a specific paddling trip – and if that section is a good fit for your abilities. Jump to How to Use.
Skill ratings apply to the variety of paddling experiences in South Carolina, from rivers and lakes to coastal areas impacted by tides. The skill rating is generally assigned based on the paddling skill needed to complete the trip. Skill means the ability to maneuver a boat around obstacles such as rapids or downed trees, but other factors could include navigation, long portages, or overnight trips, where prior experience is necessary. While determining the skill level for any experience is somewhat subjective based on the author’s knowledge, the general guidelines Paddle SC uses are listed in the section below.
River flow ratings will allow users to quickly view if the river they are interested in has enough water for paddling. The river flow rating scale pulls real-time flow levels from the USGS gauge for each river and indicates to users if the current water level is suitable for paddling.
Paddle SC's skill ratings use the whitewater classification system as a starting point for obstacles. All categories assume recommended flow conditions for paddling. Some risk is always present when paddling, and difficulty can vary widely depending on conditions - such as changing flow or weather, downed trees, or tides.
EASY – Little or no prior paddling experience is necessary to complete this paddling trip. Hazards are minimal and water is mostly flat with no or very minor obstacles, no skilled maneuvering is required and only short portages (carrying the boat) once on the water. Paddlers may encounter Class I rapids (small ripples and waves). Trips labeled as “Easy” are great for first-time paddlers and are beginner and family-friendly.
MODERATE – Some prior paddling experience is suggested for a comfortable trip. There may be hazards or obstacles that require more skillful maneuvering, including Class I and II rapids (straightforward rapids with clear, wide channels), downed trees, winding watercourses (stretches of river with quick turns), and some eddies. If a rapid higher than Class II is present, there is an option to portage (or carry your boat) around it.
DIFFICULT – Prior experience is required to complete this trip. Hazards or obstacles (downed trees along winding watercourses, very swift water, long portages, and strong currents) will require more skillful maneuvering. There may be Class II or III rapids (moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to maneuver). Coastal paddling in this category may include long open water stretches or surf, and require knowledge of tides.
ADVANCED – Advanced paddling experience/skills and a high degree of adventure required to complete this trip. Hazards or obstacles will require very skilled maneuvering and are dangerous to non-expert paddlers, including stretches with Class III+ or higher rapids (Intense, powerful, or extremely long rapids) or remote trips requiring navigation skills or backcountry emergency knowledge. Coastal paddling in this category may include long open water stretches and surf requiring knowledge of tides to prevent being stranded.
For more information on River Rapid Classifications and Safety, visit American Whitewater’s Safety Code website page. Also be sure to review the Water Safety section of Paddle SC for links to additional resources.
Water levels are an essential factor when planning for a paddling excursion. If water levels are too low or too high, paddling can be impossible or dangerous. Low water levels can expose debris and strainers in riverbeds and make traveling downstream difficult, especially if the water is too low for a boat to float. High water levels can be extremely dangerous; rapids can jump from moderate to advanced and waters can become extremely turbulent and difficult to maneuver.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) measures water levels on rivers across South Carolina and the United States. Current data are typically recorded at 15- to 60-minute intervals, stored at the onsite gauge (on the river), and then transmitted to USGS offices every 1 to 4 hours. This allows Paddle SC to pull in real-time data and display current water levels for rivers with USGS gauges.
Recommended levels for paddling are generally based on the lowest level a waterway needs for a boat to float and the highest water level that is safe for paddling. This creates a range of water level needed to paddle safely, which is outlined below. When a waterway is runnable, it is suitable for paddling - likewise, water levels above or below the recommended flow range or runnability are not suitable for paddling.
Water Flow Rating Scale
Dots (skill level) and icons (river flow) are used to rate trips and waterways using the color and icon classifications outlined above. You will see small dots and icons next to postings that will indicate the skill level or current water level of that trip.
You can also click the "Information" icon to view the Skill Level Ratings or Water Flow Ratings Legend(s). The "Learn More" link will bring you back to this page for additional information if needed. Hovering directly over a dot or an icon will also show you the difficulty or runnability of that trip.