Self-rescue and survival techniques

It is crucial that the leader has the skills associated with river crossings to allow them to facilitate a safe and successful crossing for the entire party. Even when all procedures are followed however, accidents do occur. The leader and the group need an understanding of the safety procedures and principles that must be adopted whenever a person finds themselves in water more than neck deep.

If you lose your footing while attempting a river crossing your best chance of rescue is saving yourself. The following approaches are recommended:

  • Assume the white-water safety position—on your back, position your feet downstream, and feet up with your toes out of the water to avoid foot entrapment.
  • Watch for obstacles.
  • Place your thumbs in the lower part of your pack straps and push down. This should keep your shoulders up in the top of the straps and your head above water.
  • Keep your heels slightly lower than your buttocks.
  • As your feet contact rocks, either flatten out to slide over shallow rocks, or use your feet to fend them off, then use your hands to turn around and point your feet down river.
  • You may be able to move from one side of the current to the other while in this position. This is known as ferry gliding and requires the swimmer to move the body from side-to-side using the hands. If done correctly a swimmer can change the angle of the body so the force of the current strikes one side in particular. This will move the swimmer towards the river edge.
  • Don't panic, but try to assess the situation and seek the best alternative.
  • Don't try to stand up.
  • Stay in the main stream until an eddy can be reached. When it is possible to swim, backstroke or side stroke to catch the eddy, quickly get out of the water and make yourself visible.