Imagine this: you’re hiking through the woods and you realize you need to stop and get some water, there’s a river nearby, so you walk over and find the best spot to access the river bank.
The only problem? You’re perilously perched above the water on a small grassy ledge. As soon as you bend down to put your water bottle into the river, you slip and slide right into the raging current below.
Do you know what to do if you fall into a raging river? Do you have the skills you need to survive?
If you’re like most people, the answer to those questions is probably a “no.” Generally speaking, most people don’t regularly find themselves hurtling down white water rapids, so this information isn’t common knowledge. Luckily, we’re here to help; coming up, we’ve got our top tips for surviving a fall into a raging river.
1. Avoid Falling Into a River
Okay, this one isn’t really a tip for how to survive a fall but rather how to prevent it. In reality, preventing a fall into a raging river is your best chance of survival. If you can avoid crossing rivers, or at the very least avoid crossing in sections of white water, you’ll be better off in the long run.
If a river crossing is unavoidable, then be sure to practice proper river crossing technique and take the time to scout out the best crossing site. When we’re tired we often rush to the first crossing area we see, but there might be a better and less risky crossing not too far away.
2. Get Rid of Your Backpack
If you get stuck in a river, the last thing you want is to have your backpack on and strapped to your body. A backpack can weigh you down should you need to swim, and it can very easily get stuck on rocks or trees in the river. Thus, you should always undo the straps on your backpack before beginning your river crossing or leave your packs off to the side if you’re just going to the river to fill up your water bottle.
3. Flip Over Onto Your Back
Regardless of how you end up in the river, the very first thing you’ll want to do when you start to get swept away is to roll over onto your back. Keep your feet pointed downstream and your head positioned upstream. By doing this, you’ll keep your head out of the water and you’ll be better able to protect it from boulders in the river. Plus, if you do collide with any rocks, your legs will most likely take the brunt of the impact.
4. Stay Calm and Breathe
Needless to say, getting swept into a river is a frightening thing. It’s understandable if you start to panic, especially if you’re not a confident swimmer or are uncomfortable in the water.
This being said, panicking certainly won’t help you in this situation and will cloud your judgment. Instead, you need to try your best to stay calm and to breathe with the flow of the water. Doing so will help limit the amount of water you swallow and will help calm you down as much as possible.
5. Exit the River in a Calmer Area
Calmer areas of the river known as eddies, where the water starts to churn back upstream, are the perfect place to make your exit. In some rivers, these eddies may be few and far between or they might not be along the river bank.
Thus, as soon as you get yourself on your back and can calm yourself down, you’ll want to start looking out for a good place to exit. If you see an area that looks promising, get prepared to flip over onto your stomach and swim diagonally over toward the shore in the same direction as the current.
6. Get Out of the River and Get Dry
Once you find your exit point and get yourself over to the riverbank, you may need to pull yourself out of the water or crawl onto a gravel bar. As soon as you can, get yourself fully out of the water and take a deep breath. You made it out of the river, but your job isn’t over.
At this point, you’re almost certainly soaking wet, and unless you packed all of your clothing into drybags or garbage bags, everything in your pack is probably soaked too. What you’ll need to do now is figure out some way to get dry and warm up.
First things first, strip off any cotton or down layers that you’re wearing and put on something synthetic. Even if your synthetic clothing is wet, it’s better than wearing wet cotton and down. Next, you’re going to want to make a fire to help you stay warm, or go into the sun if it’s a hot day.
On sunny days, you’re probably going to be able to dry some of your other clothing off in the heat, so you might want to find some way to hang your gear up to dry. From here on, the goal is to stay warm, stay dry, and come up with a plan for the next few hours – or days, if you’re out on a long trip.
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