Planning for a river crossing

As a leader you have an obligation to ensure your party is not injured as a result of a decision you do or do not make. This should be ever present in your mind when making decisions that involve river crossings.

Before leaving for your trip you should find out all you can about the area you intend to visit. If a river crossing is necessary then it is important that the group knows this, and consideration is given to any specialised equipment required to minimise risk. Enquiries should include the swimming ability of individual members in the group, the likely river levels in the area you intend to walk or ski, any change to that level due to weather, irrigation or hydro electric requirements, and any suggested or possible crossing locations and escape routes if the crossing is doubtful. If this information is gathered before you go it will help you assess the group and the conditions as you travel.

Once you decide that a river crossing is necessary and your group is capable of completing it safely, you should continually assess the group’s progress during the walk. Factors that could influence the decision to cross or not to cross may include the mental state of the group, the physical state of individuals within the group and the time you reach the intended crossing. It may be better to wait until the next day before the crossing is attempted. Crossings should not be attempted in the dark.

When assessing a potential site the following should be considered:

  • depth
  • speed—water velocity is usually the most obvious danger, and even ankle deep water can move fast enough to knock a person off their feet
  • channel bottom—this can be hazardous, such as slippery surfaces, very smooth surfaces, or an uneven boulder strewn bottom
  • number of walkers—being able to utilise methods involving a number of persons gives more options than if there is only one person.

Any factor which obscures the view of the bottom poses an additional hazard. This includes suspended material such as mud or silt, and floating matter such as algae or plant material.