• Hazardous river crossings should only be attempted when the alternatives to the crossing are more hazardous than the crossing itself.
  • All river crossings must be treated as potentially dangerous.

When planning your route take into account potential problems such as flooding or tidal rivers and plan to cross at low-tide.

When a flooded river is encountered, carefully assess the dangers involved in crossing it.

If crossing will involve unnecessary danger, camp and wait for the water level to fall. Alternatively, select a safer more circuitous route that will at least reduce or possibly eliminate the danger of crossing.

Choice of Crossing Point

Choose the easiest and safest crossing point to ford a river. Check both up and down stream, not just where you meet the river. A crossing higher upstream where the river bed is steeper and the water flow faster, may offer an easier crossing than lower downstream where the flow is slower and deeper but remember, safety should not be sacrificed just to avoid getting wet feet or taking off boots.

It may be simpler to cross several smaller tributaries one at a time, than to cross one main stream.

It is most often safest to cross between bends in a river. The bend itself could be dangerous because at the outside of the bend the water is deep, currents are powerful and frequently the bank will be undercut. The bottom is more often good and the water shallower between rapids (though this is not always true). Certainly, the water will be less turbulent. It is often found that a wider stretch where the flow is slow can be shallower, offering an easier path.

Wherever possible obtain a viewpoint above the river, as this will make it easier to spot hazards that cannot be seen from water level. Take into account potential downstream hazards like waterfalls, in the event of someone being swept downstream whilst swimming.

Method of crossing


  • Remove trousers to reduce friction or drag. They can then be put on dry at the other side.
  • It is preferred that boots or strong sandals be worn during a river crossing. Socks should be removed and put on dry at the other side.
  • Unfasten waist band and loosen traps of your pack for quick off-loading in emergencies.
  • Make use of a pole or branch for a “third leg”.
  • Secure from the bank. A rope should always be used. Each individual making the crossing should be roped-up, thus forming a safe link into the group on the river banks.
  • Never leap from one boulder to another and pass sacks. Look out for slippery algae deposits.

The above guidelines are given in brief, rather than none at all, but the best general advice about river crossings is to avoid them, wherever possible.


If swimming is unavoidable, and in calm water only;

  • Ensure that everyone in the party can swim & is confident in the water.
  • Choose the strongest swimmer to cross with a rope to establish the depth, currents, bottom conditions (sand/rock/sharp/slippery?) & exit point.
  • If possible rig a safety rope & haul packs across on this or put packs in emergency bags/black bags & tie so that they float & tow across on safety rope.
  • Each swimmer to proceed, tied to safety rope & using sleeping mat or air filled plastic bag as flotation device.
  • If it is absolutely impossible to use safety rope, swimming should be avoided.