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Chapter 17

Expedient Water Crossings

In a survival situation, you may have to cross a water obstacle. It may be in the form of a river, a stream, a lake, a bog, quicksand, quagmire, or muskeg. Even in the desert, flash floods occur, making streams an obstacle. Whatever the obstacle, you need to know how to cross it safely.

RIVERS AND STREAMS

17-1. You can apply almost every description to rivers and streams. They may be shallow or deep, slow or fast moving, narrow or wide. Before you try to cross a river or stream, develop a good plan.

17-2. Your first step is to look for a high place from which you can get a good view of the river or stream. From this place, you can look for a place to cross. If there is no high place, climb a tree. Good crossing locations include—

17-3. The following areas possess potential hazards; avoid them, if possible:

17-4. The depth of a fordable river or stream is no deterrent if you can keep your footing. In fact, deep water sometimes runs more slowly and is therefore safer than fast-moving shallow water. You can always dry your clothes later, or if necessary, you can make a raft to carry your clothing and equipment across the river.

17-5. You must not try to swim or wade across a stream or river when the water is at very low temperatures. This swim could be fatal. Try to make a raft of some type. Wade across if you can get only your feet wet. Dry them vigorously as soon as you reach the other bank.

RAPIDS

17-6. If necessary, you can safely cross a deep, swift river or rapids. To swim across a deep, swift river, swim with the current, never fight it. Try to keep your body horizontal to the water. This will reduce the danger of being pulled under.

17-7. In fast, shallow rapids, lie on your back, feet pointing downstream, finning your hands alongside your hips. This action will increase buoyancy and help you steer away from obstacles. Keep your feet up to avoid getting them bruised or caught by rocks.

17-8. In deep rapids, lie on your stomach, head downstream, angling toward the shore whenever you can. Watch for obstacles and be careful of backwater eddies and converging currents, as they often contain dangerous swirls. Converging currents occur where new watercourses enter the river or where water has been diverted around large obstacles such as small islands.

17-9. To ford a swift, treacherous stream, apply the following steps:

Figure 17-1. One Man Crossing Swift Stream

Figure 17-1. One Man Crossing Swift Stream

17-10. Using this method, you can safely cross currents usually too strong for one person to stand against. Do not concern yourself about your pack's weight, as the weight will help rather than hinder you in fording the stream.

17-11. If there are other people with you, cross the stream together. Ensure that everyone has prepared their pack and clothing as outlined above. Position the heaviest person on the downstream end of the pole and the lightest on the upstream end. In using this method, the upstream person breaks the current, and those below can move with relative ease in the eddy formed by the upstream person. If the upstream person gets temporarily swept off his feet, the others can hold steady while he regains his footing (Figure 17-2).

Figure 17-2. Several Men Crossing Swift Stream

Figure 17-2. Several Men Crossing Swift Stream

17-12. If you have three or more people and a rope available, you can use the technique shown in Figure 17-3 to cross the stream. The length of the rope must be three times the width of the stream.

Figure 17-3. Individuals Tied Together to Cross Stream

Figure 17-3. Individuals Tied Together to Cross Stream

RAFTS

17-13. If you have two ponchos, you can construct a brush raft or an Australian poncho raft. With either of these rafts, you can safely float your equipment across a slow-moving stream or river.

BRUSH RAFT

17-14. The brush raft, if properly constructed, will support about 115 kilograms (253 pounds). To construct it, use ponchos, fresh green brush, two small saplings, and rope or vine as follows (Figure 17-4):

Figure 17-4. Brush Raft

Figure 17-4. Brush Raft

AUSTRALIAN PONCHO RAFT

17-15. If you do not have time to gather brush for a brush raft, you can make an Australian poncho raft. This raft, although more waterproof than the poncho brush raft, will only float about 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of equipment. To construct this raft, use two ponchos, two rucksacks, two 1.2-meter (4-foot) poles or branches, and ropes, vines, bootlaces, or comparable material as follows (Figure 17-5):

Figure 17-5. Australian Poncho Raft

Figure 17-5. Australian Poncho Raft

PONCHO DONUT RAFT

17-16. Another type of raft is the poncho donut raft. It takes more time to construct than the brush raft or Australian poncho raft, but it is effective. To construct it, use one poncho, small saplings, willow or vines, and rope, bootlaces, or other binding material (Figure 17-6) as follows:

Figure 17-6. Poncho Donut Raft

Figure 17-6. Poncho Donut Raft

17-17. When launching any of the above rafts, take care not to puncture or tear it by dragging it on the ground. Before you start to cross the river or stream, let the raft lay on the water a few minutes to ensure that it floats.

17-18. If the river is too deep to ford, push the raft in front of you while you are swimming. The design of the above rafts does not allow them to carry a person's full body weight. Use them as a float to get you and your equipment safely across the river or stream.

17-19. Be sure to check the water temperature before trying to cross a river or water obstacle. If the water is extremely cold and you are unable to find a shallow fording place in the river, do not try to ford it. Devise other means for crossing. For instance, you might improvise a bridge by felling a tree over the river. Or you might build a raft large enough to carry you and your equipment. For this, however, you will need an axe, a knife, a rope or vines, and time.

LOG RAFT

17-20. You can make a raft using any dry, dead, standing trees for logs. However, spruce trees found in polar and subpolar regions make the best rafts. A simple method for making a raft is to use pressure bars lashed securely at each end of the raft to hold the logs together (Figure 17-7).

Figure 17-7. Use of Pressure Bars

Figure 17-7. Use of Pressure Bars

FLOTATION DEVICES

17-21. If the water is warm enough for swimming and you do not have the time or materials to construct one of the poncho-type rafts, you can use various flotation devices to negotiate the water obstacle. Some items you can use for flotation devices are—

NOTE: Wet the trousers before inflating to trap the air better You may have to reinflate the trousers several times when crossing a large body of water.

Figure 17-8. Log Flotation

Figure 17-8. Log Flotation

17-22. There are many other flotation devices that you can devise by using some imagination. Just make sure to test the device before trying to use it.

OTHER WATER OBSTACLES

17-23. Other water obstacles that you may face are bogs, quagmire, muskeg, or quicksand. Do not try to walk across these. Trying to lift your feet while standing upright will make you sink deeper. Try to bypass these obstacles. If you are unable to bypass them, you may be able to bridge them using logs, branches, or foliage.

17-24. A way to cross a bog is to lie face down, with your arms and legs spread. Use a flotation device or form pockets of air in your clothing. Swim or pull your way across moving slowly and trying to keep your body horizontal.

17-25. In swamps, the areas that have vegetation are usually firm enough to support your weight. However, vegetation will usually not be present in open mud or water areas. If you are an average swimmer, you should have no problem swimming, crawling, or pulling your way through miles of bog or swamp.

17-26. Quicksand is a mixture of sand and water that forms a shifting mass. It yields easily to pressure and sucks down and engulfs objects resting on its surface. It varies in depth and is usually localized. Quicksand commonly occurs on flat shores, in silt-choked rivers with shifting watercourses, and near the mouths of large rivers. If you are uncertain whether a sandy area is quicksand, toss a small stone on it. The stone will sink in quicksand. Although quicksand has more suction than mud or muck, you can cross it just as you would cross a bog. Lie face down, spread your arms and legs, and move slowly across.

VEGETATION OBSTACLES

17-27. Some water areas you must cross may have underwater and floating plants that will make swimming difficult. However, you can swim through relatively dense vegetation if you remain calm and do not thrash about. Stay as near the surface as possible and use the breaststroke with shallow leg and arm motion. Remove the plants around you as you would clothing. When you get tired, float or swim on your back until you have rested enough to continue with the breaststroke.

17-28. The mangrove swamp is another type of obstacle that occurs along tropical coastlines. Mangrove trees or shrubs throw out many prop roots that form dense masses. To get through a mangrove swamp, wait for low tide. If you are on the inland side, look for a narrow grove of trees and work your way seaward through these. You can also try to find the bed of a waterway or creek through the trees and follow it to the sea. If you are on the seaward side, work inland along streams or channels. Be on the lookout for crocodiles along channels and in shallow water. If there are any near you, leave the water and scramble over the mangrove roots. While crossing a mangrove swamp, it is possible to gather food from tidal pools or tree roots.

17-29. A large swamp area requires more time and effort. Therefore, if you must cross a large swamp area, construct some type of raft.