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River Crossings

River Crossings

Heavy rain will cause flooding and make streams rise rapidly into dangerous torrents, sometimes washing away bridges, parts of footpaths and covering fords. Do not attempt to cross such streams in spate. River crossings are not to be undertaken lightly and if there is any doubt at all either (i) MAKE A DETOUR or (ii) WAIT until the spate or flood subsides.

If an occasion arises where in extremity it is decided that crossing a river in NORMAL flow is the safest of several alternatives, then it is best to observe a routine procedure as follows:


  • Remove trousers to reduce friction or drag. They can be put on dry at the other side.
  • Wear boots when fording a river. Socks should be taken off and put on dry at the other side.
  • Undo the waist band of the pack and loosen shoulder straps for quick off-loading. Empty billies and closed polythene bags should be placed at the top of the pack to provide buoyancy.
  • Make use of a branch or pole for a 'third leg'.
  • Secure from the bank. A rope should always be used. Each individual making the crossing should be attached to the rope, thus forming a safe link with the group on the banks of the river.

Choice of crossing:

  • It is most often safest between bends. Bends can be very dangerous because at the outside curves the water is deep, currents are powerful and frequently banks are undercut.
  • The bottom is often good and water shallower between rapids, though this is not always true. Certainly the water is less turbulent.
  • The water is usually shallower and the flow slower where the river widens.
  • The safest crossing point will often prove to be where the river splits into several channels.
  • If possible get a viewpoint from above the river, for other hazards are revealed that cannot be seen from the horizontal.


  • The leader of the group should check that individual preparations have been carried out correctly and that each person crossing is made secure from the bank.
  • Avoid jumping from boulder to boulder. This is a very dangerous procedure.
  • Make short shuffling steps for steady progress, endeavoring to maintain 'three point' contact at all times.
  • Crossing on a diagonal is recommended, i.e. a 'down-stream and across' approach.

The above brief guidelines are given rather than none at all but the best general advice that can be given about river crossings is AVOID THEM. They are extremely dangerous and should only be attempted in the extreme case of necessity, and only then if a rope link with the bank is possible.


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Published on: 2005-05-16 (1835 reads)

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