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How to Make a Shallow Water Crossing

To assist in a swiftwater rescue, you may need to get to the other side of the stream. In this video, rescue Instructor Jim Coffey describes techniques that an individual, or a group of rescuers, can use to safely and efficiently perform a shallow water crossing.

Being able to wade in shallow water is a vital rescue skill. You may need to get crew members to the other side of the stream to set up a rescue from both sides of the stream, or you may need to cross a side stream.

There are several formal wading techniques that need to become part of our playbook. Doing them right is important, since there’s always a danger of foot entrapment when wading in swift current. Also, always wear shoes with good grip so you’ll be able to navigate slippery river rocks.

A single rescuer can wade out, facing upstream as they shuffle sideways. Multiple people can use a “line-of-stern” method where the front person uses a paddle for support and one or more others join behind that person for support.

A “triangle-of-support” involves three people facing each other, grasping each other’s shoulders or life jackets. This method generally works best when the rescuers are of equal size. A larger team can form a “wedge” by holding onto one another as they wade out.

Sometimes you may be by yourself, or don’t have enough people to perform one of these techniques. If by yourself, without a paddle, look for some driftwood or tree limb to use for support.

Or, you can just move out and improvise your crossing. Shuffle sideways to the current to reduce the force of the water against you. Avoid facing downstream, where a foot can slip under a rock and get into a foot entrapment. Use an athletic stance, knees bent. You may even need to reach down and grab onto rocks to steady yourself.

Always evaluate the risks when making decisions in a rescue. Avoid becoming another victim.