Many people cross rivers while tramping or enjoying other outdoor activities. Most crossings are conducted safely and successfully. Unfortunately not all crossings go so well. Each year, on average, three people drown while crossing rivers.

There is some element of danger in all river crossings. Using river crossing techniques can reduce the danger but no crossing can be considered absolutely safe.

If you do embark on a trip that may involve river crossings then you have three crucial decisions to make to reduce the risk from river crossing.

1. Should you cross at all?

Crossing alone is hazardous and it is not recommended that you get yourself into a river crossing situation if you are alone.

If there are any doubts about the safety of crossing don’t cross – it isn’t worth the risk!

2. Where should you cross?

Assess the river.

Never cross a river in flood – 80% of river crossing drownings have occurred when the river has been in flood.

What is the speed of the river, look downstream for run out hazards, are there good entry and exit points?

You should avoid crossing on a bend, above a place where another stream joins the river and where the water is dirty and cloudy.

3. How should you cross?

  • Check your clothing and equipment.
  • Avoid loose bulky clothes.
  • Wear your boots or shoes.
  • Try to keep the gear you are carrying in your pack/day pack dry. Make sure that it is all in plastic bags.

When crossing always:

  • keep your body side on to the current;
  • take small shuffling steps;
  • move diagonally downstream with the current to conserve your energy;
  • have a leader to control the crossing make sure that everyone can hear instructions before you get into the river;
  • have the strongest people at the upstream end to break the flow for the others;
  • have the upstream person just slightly ahead of the person next downstream and so on down the line.
  • If the crossing does not go as planned:
  • Stay linked up and back up slowly out of the river. Do not break the link until everyone is into very shallow water.