How to safely cross rivers and rapids

A river to avoid crossing
A river to avoid crossing

Maybe you are on a fishing trip or simply camping when you face a hard task, such as a river crossing. Doing it in any type of situation especially a survival one is a very dangerous thing.

Crossing a river or a rapid can be a tremendously tough job. Before taking the first step, you need to observe the whole situation, know what kind of river you’re dealing with and what obstacles you have to contend with.



The first thing you should do is climb a tree or get to a high point and see it all from above. When you get familiar with what’s going on down there and how the river flows, things become a little bit easier for you.


Good crossing points that you should be looking for are spots where the river breaks into several channels. Crossing a few smaller channels is easier than crossing a big wide river. Another good crossing point is a sandbar. Start crossing the river upstream of the sandbar, if you lose your footing the water will take you onto the sandbar.



There are also hazardous points that you should avoid such as ledges, these are often created by rocks and can indicate there are dangerous rapid near. Never cross a river right above a rapid waterfall or a deep channel. Rocky places can be very slippery and getting injured yourself is the last thing you need.

Stay away from eddies, an eddy can pull you down bellow the surface and it’s very hard to get out.

Deep rivers sometimes run slowly and are therefore can be safer than fast flowing shallow rivers. As long as you can keep your footing you are fine. To save your equipment and keep your things dry, make a raft to carry your stuff across the river.



To cross a deep rapid always swim with the current, never fight it. Keep your body horizontal to reduce chances of drowning.


To cross shallow and very fast rapids, lie on your back with your feet facing downstream. In deep rapids lie on your stomach and try to avoid backwater eddies. For your safety, remove all your clothes to avoid the water’s pull on you. Leave on your shoes to protect your feet and ankles from the rocky bottoms.



Tie everything to your backpack and be prepared to get rid of it if necessary, so don’t do up the belt. If it’s light enough have it on one shoulder so that you can shed it easily if you go over in the water.

Find a 8 foot / 2.5-meter long pole to help you cross the rapid. Plant it firmly on your upstream side to break the current and remember that the force of the current should always place the pole against your shoulder. Make slow steps and plant your feet firmly.



Crossing a rapid or a river can be a demanding task, but when you know how to do it, things are a lot easier. Be careful when doing it and if it is possible avoid crossing dangerous rivers by yourself.


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stef-zisovska is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival