Water is essential to life, beautiful and extremely hazardous; crossing water is one of the most dangerous undertakings in the outdoor world and the decision to do so must never be taken lightly. Inevitably though, there will come a time when the traveller is left with no choice and it is at these moments that prior experience and training become invaluable.
When training our students to make water crossings, we encourage them to use the acronym: WASPTAR – What type of water is it? Will it be cold? Are there other hazards? Is it feasible to attempt?
- Water – What type of water is it? Will it be cold? Are there other hazards? Is it feasible to attempt?
- Assess – What is downstream/upstream? What is bed composed of? Where are the eddies? How strong is the flow? How fit are you/your group. How well can they swim?
- Search – Look for easy and safe places to enter and exit the water. Where is the best place to cross? Could you wade instead of swimming?
- Plan – Make sure everyone knows what’s happening and think about communication. Fast moving water is noisy so signals may be best.
- Technique – Choose an appropriate technique for your group and rehearse on dry land. Avoid using a rope unless trained and never tie yourself in.
- Anticipate – Think about what could go wrong. What happens if you miss the exit point? Will you have spotters upstream? Will you have rescues in place downstream? How will you rewarm on the other side?
- Rewarm – Make sure that everyone takes the time to rewarm, change into dry clothes and have an energy rich drink and/or something to eat.
The above process is often easier to go through if discussions are had as long as these do not become protracted. Good leadership and decision making are key and these are made easier with the benefit of experience. With this in mind, senior members of the Woodlore outdoor team joined members of the UK International Search and Rescue team for a session of outstanding training focusing on how to wade, swim and rescue in fast-moving water.
All of the above techniques require practice to get them right and the power of moving water should never be underestimated, even when it is shallow. Cross water only as a last resort, make sure that you are able and that your planning is complete and realistic. Remember: WASPTAR.
For the second year, ISAR provided the team with an invaluable insight into this truly relentless element and we would like to extend our thanks to all those who took the time to give their expertise. For first hand experience of travelling over and crossing water, join us on the Journeyman Course, Canoeing in the Ardeche or the Woodlore Canadian Wilderness Canoe Expedition.
– Keith Whitehead, Aspirant Instructor and Quartermaster