Water is one of the most beautiful and oft discussed of the natural forces.
It has inspired countless songs, poems and literature and is vital to all natural life - simply our planet could not survive without it.
It is, however, one of the most powerful and deadly forces we can encounter.
Annually thousands of people across the globe drown in anything from the mighty oceans to their own bathtubs.
Working in and enjoying many natural places brings with it an ever present danger from water.
If we do anything outdoors we must understand the dangers of water and how to combat them.
This will form the first in a series of articles looking at the dangers of water and how to cross such obstacles.
What to do if you fall into water
Bear in mind that people slip on greasy and wet surfaces on the sides of water all the time so be prepared for this and have suitable safety precautions in place.
Should the worst happen and a member of the party falls in, there are several things that must be remembered.
First, the shock of cold water is often underplayed but should someone swallow sufficient water in this naturally occurring ‘shock’ phase it can kill rapidly.
When this cold water shock happens remember that it is an entirely normal process and will pass within a minute or two so try to remain calm and ensure your head stays above the surface.
If you are swept away by moving water...
If swept away keep your feet up at all times. The chances are the underwater bed of the river is similar to the broken rocks - with trip hazards and holes to trap feet - that line the edges of the water.
Should you put your feet down in the river whilst swimming you can easily get trapped and possibly drown. So always keep your feet up and together if you can.
Keep your knees bent so you can absorb being pushed onto any large rocks and spring off and round them. Keep your arms out to the side as a kind of fin to help steer and by back-stroking you will slow down slightly. Remember arms and hands can get trapped too so keep them high in the water.
Watch where you are going and remain on your back. When you get near an eddy (a recirculation of water where everything slows down and floats back up stream) created by a small bay, rock or headland on the river bank sprint in front crawl as hard as you can aiming for the top, or upstream area, of the eddy to get yourself out of the water.
Being cold and wet take care not to slip again and take another swim on the way out.
Resist the temptation to dive in
It is a naturally occurring trait of human kind to help another if in trouble. Seeing a colleague or friend struggling in water can be incredibly distressing but it is imperative not to act rashly in such situations. I have pulled people from all sorts of watery conundrums from a simple slip from stepping stones to struggling swimmers in cold deep water.
Draconian as it may sound every rescue was only implemented after I was certain I would not become a casualty too – remember to always put your own well being first in such circumstances.
Of a less dramatic nature if a member of a group goes for an unwanted swim you, as a rescuer, may be much more useful on dry land as a warm, dry, useful aid when they manage to exit the water by offering fire, shelters and hot sustenance.
What about ropes?
One thing to mention at this point is the danger of ropes and water. Outdoor literature concerning river crossings often discusses the merits or issues surrounding the use of ropes as aids to crossing water. By bringing ropes into play the level of danger rises dramatically in this kind of scenario.
Basically unless you are highly trained and have no alternative then leave the ropes either at home or in your pack. Sod’s law dictates that a rope will always snag or coil round some unseen object. Always.
Something as simple as a loop of rope over an ankle or wrist will drown the most competent person in water.
If you have to use a rope to rescue someone in the ‘drink’, never stand down stream of the rope; never wrap the rope around hands or wrists for extra purchase and watch where you put your feet with regard to coils.
Be realistic about the risks
The aim of the above words is not to scare people away from the outdoors.
Assuming that the reader enjoys time outdoors and in wild places you are, at some point or another, going to come across water obstacles.
You should not fear such obstacles but respect and learn as much as you can about them.
In the next article in this series we will look at how to evaluate the specific risks faced should we decide to commit to a water crossing.
Disclaimer: The outdoors, and water hazards in particular, are inherently dangerous. The author and Frontier Bushcraft Ltd disclaims any liability, personal or professional, resulting from the misapplication of any of the procedures described or depicted in this or following articles.