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OOPS Trip Rating System


  • Introduction
  • Rating System Table
  • Recommended skills for a given trip level
  • Definitions
  • Additional trip level "Adjectives"
  • An Example of how the trip rating system works
  • Questions and Answers about the trip rating system


All levels of paddles are designed to allow OOPS members to meet other members, to paddle in a “safe” environment, and to introduce members to Oregon and Washington-area paddling locations.    The following are common to all levels of paddles:

  • All participants are expected to wear immersion gear appropriate to the venue, season, and level of paddle (i.e. drysuit, wetsuit, or insulating clothing such as fleece).
    • Please see the our Learning Resources page, in particular the "Cold Water and Immersion Protection" section.
  • Remember to bring a change of clothes in a drybag.
  • Bring adequate food and water for the duration of the paddle (plus a little extra just in case).
  • The trip organizer has the right to deny your participation in the paddle at the put-in or before if he/she thinks you are not adequately prepared for the trip or the possibility of immersion.
  • All participants are expected to have read, and to comply with, the OOPS Activity Guidelines, including, but not limited to, signing the OOPS liability release.
  • If you are unsure about the suitability of your skills, equipment or clothing, please contact the trip organizer for advice prior to the paddle date.
OOPS Trips are rated in terms of levels (see the table below) to give you an idea of what conditions you may encounter, and what skills you will likely need. 

Rating System table


Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5


Light: Less than 7 knots (8mph)

Light to Moderate: Up to 12 knots (14 mph) – wind noticeably effects movement of paddle

Up to 16 knots
(19 mph)

Up to 21 knots
(25 mph)

Any level 4 conditions exceeded. Any combination of two or more level 4 conditions present

Sea State as seen from boat

Waves up to the deck seam; water glassy to rippled, no whitecaps

Waves up to armpit; light to moderate chop, scattered whitecaps

Waves to paddle tops; numerous whitecaps, waves becoming longer

Many whitecaps, some spray

Waves, Swell, Breaking Waves

Under 1' waves, no breaking waves

Waves up to 2', no breaking waves

Waves to 3', breaking waves to 2'

Waves up 6', Breaking Waves up to 4'

Landing Type

Frequent easy landing opportunities including gently sloping, sand, gravel or grass

Frequent landing opportunities including docks or moderate sloping banks, brush or overhanging trees

Bad footing, rocky shores, or surf up to 1.5'

Steep rocky shores if sheltered from the waves, or surf up to 4'

Open Crossings

Less than 0.5 miles

Between 0.5 and 1 miles

1 to 2 miles

2 to 4 miles

Total Distance

Up to 6 miles

6 to 11 miles

11 to 15 miles

15 to 22 miles


None or mild (less than 1 knot)

Mild currents (up to 2 knots): current increases / decreases group speed by half

Up to 4 knots: paddlers must sprint to move forward

Up to 6 knots


  • When planning a trip, any two conditions exceeding the trip’s average rating bumps the rating up to the next level (for example, a trip where all conditions are level 2 except level 3 currents and level 3 distance becomes a level 3 trip).
  • Night or limited visibility (fog, heavy rain) bumps the rating up at least one level.
  • Just before a trip, any wind, weather, swell, surf, sea state, or current conditions exceeding the posted level of the trip cause the entire trip to be bumped to that level (possibly even skipping intermediate levels) and should trigger a careful re-evaluation of the plan, goals, venue, and participants of that trip.
  • There are no half-levels.

Recommended Skills for a Given Level

Level 1

  • Forward, reverse, sweep turns, stern rudder.  
  • Able to wet exit.  Able to re-enter with the assistance of another paddler.  
  • Group position awareness.

Level 2

  • High and low bracing ability.  
  • Comfort with some edging, bow rudder.  
  • Efficient forward stroke.  
  • Confident wet exits.  
  • Assisted rescue ability both as swimmer and rescuer.  
  • Paddle float or other self-rescue.   
  • Some experience with towing.  
  • Group positioning and dynamics awareness.

Level 3

  • Eddy line crossings.  
  • Confident edge control in all maneuvering strokes.
  • Confident bracing ability. 
  • Confident and practiced assisted rescues, self-rescues, and towing (if appropriate) in conditions present.
  • Group management ability.
  • Basic navigation skills.

Level 4

  • Confident boat control in wind and moving water.  
  • Reliable roll.  
  • Recently rehearsed assisted rescues in Level 3 or Level 4 conditions.  
  • Confident group management experience.  
  • Accurate course plotting and chart positioning skills.

Level 5

  • Reliable rough water roll.  
  • Confident rough water assisted rescue ability.  
  • Confident group management experience.  
  • Night and limited visibility navigation.


Ability versus Confidence:
Ability, having done the skill.  Confidence, having rehearsed the skill until it is automatic.  For example, rescues:  Ability is having done one or two.  Confidence is assurance that the rescue will be done in under a minute in the present conditions, in whatever configuration presents itself as convenient.

Basic navigation skills:

Awareness of one's location on a chart. Ability to steer by compass.

Confident wet exits:
Can retain boat and paddle in the wind during a wet exit and rescue; have rehearsed wet exits in conditions similar to the intended trip.

Group positioning, group dynamic awareness, and group management experience:
Group positioning is the distance between the furthest two paddlers in the group.  Group dynamic awareness is an awareness of the movement of the group and action to keep the group together.  By level three, the conditions are actively separating the group and group management should be an integral function of the group, not something driven from the leaders down.  By level four, this is critical.  Group management experience helps give a paddler an understanding of the issues involved.  The intent is to begin this awareness at level one, develop it at level two, refine it at level three, and count on it at level four.

Long Wave Form:
Waves are organized in rows.

Moving water:
Eddies, boils, currents or waves that are actively changing the boats course.

Open Crossing:
The distance between two shorelines with no land mass in between suitable for a bailout location.

Recently rehearsed:
Within the past year.

Reliable roll:
Ability to miss a roll or two and then hit the next one.

Reliable rough-water roll:
Ability to stay underwater for several seconds in various positions with currents or waves moving the boat around, and then set up and roll on either side.

Additional Trip Rating "Adjectives"

In addition to these levels, the organizer may choose to further describe the trip using one of these modifiers:

  • "Relaxed":  These paddles are tailored to beginner paddlers, although experienced paddlers are welcome to attend. Generally, the pace in these paddles is set by the slower paddlers - those at the back of the “pack” (but not the "dawdlers").  Participants should have basic kayaking skills.
  • "Energizer":  These paddles are tailored to intermediate (one step beyond beginner) paddlers, although more experienced paddlers are welcome to attend.  Energizer Paddles will require some commitment by each participant to “keep up” with the pack for the duration!  Paddlers at the back of the pack will be expected to keep up with the pace-setting leaders (to paddle at about 3 knots).  Participants are expected to have intermediate paddling skills.
    These paddles will be advertised with the reason for its classification as “energizer” (e.g. paddle length in nautical miles, open water crossing etc.), so that you will be able to decide in advance if you wish to attend.
  • "Adventurous":  These paddles are designed to allow intermediate or advanced paddlers with BC or ACA level 3 and above, or equivalent, skills to paddle in a more challenging environment.  All participants MUST be able to demonstrate the skill level advertised for the paddle, and your participation in the paddle may be denied if you are not adequately skilled or prepared.  Participants may paddle in pods composed of“buddy groups” (where each member would have a “buddy” to look after) established before the paddle begins. There there may not be an assigned leader on an adventurous paddle, although the ratio of organizers to participants as specified in the Activity Policy must be maintained, and organizers should agree on a “chain of command” and discuss it with participants before launching boats.
    These paddles will be advertised with the reason for its classification as “adventurous” (e.g. paddle length in nautical miles, open water crossing, current speed, potential sea state etc.), so that you will be able to decide in advance if you have the skills and wish to attend.

Note that it is possible to have a "relaxed" level-3 trip, or an "energizer" or "adventurous" level 1 trip.

An Example of how the trip rating system works

Trip Rating System Clarifications –
by Don Beale, OOPS Education Coordinator March, 2007

The OOPS board of directors unanimously approved the trip rating system which is now posted to the web site. I’d like to thank Ruth Spetter, Don Durheim, and Bob Baltazar for their input and clarifications and the board as a whole for support and approval. The intent of this system is to clarify the conditions for each level, and to recommend a skill set that a paddler would be comfortable with at that level.

To illustrate this system, let’s look at a trip at Waldo Lake (see this example map). Waldo Lake is a little over 4 miles from NE to SW, and about a mile across. This planned trip is to paddle from SW to NE, 4 miles up the middle of the lake. It is assumed that the wind will be less than 7 knots and landings will be gently sloping grass shores. The wind factor rates level 1. Waves and sea state will be within the wind rating unless there is some external force, such as swell generated elsewhere. But this is a lake so these are rated at level one also. Type of landings are a 1, and there is no current. But the crossing exceeds the level one rating. According to the notes, it takes two conditions to bump the trip’s overall rating up to the next level, so this trip is pre-rated and listed on the calendar at level one.

We get to the put-in, and look out to see 1 foot waves with scattered whitecaps. The wind is blowing from the N at 10 MPH. We re-rate the trip at the put-in: The wind now falls into level two. The waves are still at a one. But the sea state at level two includes scattered whitecaps, so that goes to a two. Distance, type of landings, and current all remain at level one - but the overall trip rating goes to a two, because now three factors are at level two – that is wind speed, open crossing, and sea state. It only takes two factors to bump the overall rating up to the next level, and we have three.

So we review the level two skill set with the group, and several people are uncomfortable with the trip. We look at going up the NW shoreline instead of the middle. Here, the waves are smaller because that shore is not as exposed to the wind. There is still wind, and that factor is still level two. But all the other factors are at a one – we are not out in the open water in the middle of the lake, the wind waves don’t begin for several hundred feet from the shoreline. So the open crossing, waves, and sea state all fall into level one, and each participant is comfortable with the decision.

The skill set portion of these ratings is a set of recommended – not required – skills, with which a paddler should feel comfortable at that rating level. If a trip participant looks at the skills listed and is not comfortable with a majority of them, that’s an indication of their comfort level in the intended conditions. It then becomes that paddler’s choice whether or not to participate, depending on how far they wish to push their own comfort level. It should be noted here that trip organizers may require certain skills for any given trip.

Group management issues are new to the skill set listing. By level four, group cohesiveness is part of the overall safety strategy. These skills need to be learned at levels one and two and refined at three, so that by level four each person stays with the group even if the intended trip plan does not happen for some reason, such as a rescue or a change in conditions.

Questions and Answers about the trip rating system

Q. I see skill ____ listed for trip level x, and I don’t feel comfortable with that skill.  Does this mean I cant go on a level x trip?
A. Absolutely not.  Whether you go or do not go is a decision only you can make.  The conditions and the recommended skills are intended to help you make an informed decision.

Q. I have passed a BC or ACA level x award.  Is this an indication that I should be comfortable at a trip rated level x?
A. Yes, it is.  The five level rating system is nationally and internationally recognized.  The skills listed were pulled directly from ACA and BC resources in an effort to be compatible with recognized standards.

. I see ‘Group management’ as a recommended skill.  Does this mean that upper level trips are only open to trip organizers?
A. Absolutely not.  Reference the book ‘Deep Trouble’.  In nearly every incident, group management is a factor – in many cases a major factor.  When conditions are actively separating the group, the ‘sweep/leader/follower’ method commonly used in flat calm water doesn’t work.  It becomes a function of the group to stay together.  The words ‘Group management’ were chosen because one of the best ways to learn this is by leading trips.  While OOPS is a voluntary organization and leading trips is highly encouraged, it is not a prerequisite for participation in upper level trips.

. I see the note that trip organizers can require a certain skill for a particular trip.  Isn’t this a conflict with the statement that the skills are recommended and not required?
A. It has always been the case that trip organizers can require a given skill or experience.  For example, many trip organizers are uncomfortable leading trips with participants who do not know how to wet exit.

. I was on a flat water trip on the Columbia, and a freighter went by.  The wake from the freighter was 4’ high.  Does this mean the wave factor goes to a level four?
A. No.  The factor is rated at the overall conditions for the trip.  If the normal wave height was one foot, and there were only occasional bigger waves, the rating factor for one foot waves should be used.

. How do I know what the wave height actually is if it isn’t given in the NOAA forecast?
A. Experience.  By comparing observed conditions to those listed in the Beaufort scale, and by comparing observations to broadcast conditions whenever the opportunity presents itself, you should gain a feel for what a given wave height looks like, and what a given wind speed looks like as compared to the observed sea state.

We hope that trip organizers will find this tool useful, both for pre-rating trips and for rating them as paddled.  We also hope that trip participants will find it useful for making informed decisions about what levels to participate in, and for looking to the next skill to learn.

Beaufort Scale:
NOAA office, Portland Oregon:
NOAA Tide and current predictions:
American Canoe Association (ACA):
British Canoeing (formerly British Canoe Union or BCU):
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