As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Crossing Methods

Individual Crossings

Whenever possible, and when the degree of experience permits, streams should be forded individually for a speedier crossing. The average soldier should be able to cross most streams with mild to moderate currents and water depths of not much more than knee deep using proper techniques.

a. The individual should generally face upstream and slightly sideways, leaning slightly into the current to help maintain balance. At times, he may choose to face more sideways as this will reduce the surface area of the body against the current, thus reducing the current's overall force on the individual.

b. The feet should be shuffled along the bottom rather than lifted, with the downstream foot normally in the lead. He should take short, deliberate steps. Lunging steps and crossing the feet result in a momentary loss of balance and greatly increase the chance of a slip.

c. The individual should normally cross at a slight downstream angle so as not to fight the current. There is normally less chance of a slip when stepping off with the current as opposed to stepping off against the current.

d. The individual must constantly feel for obstacles, holes and drop-offs with the lead foot and adjust his route accordingly. If an obstacle is encountered, the feet should be placed on the upstream side of it where the turbulence is less severe and the water normally shallower.

e. To increase balance, and if available, a long ice ax, sturdy tree limb, or other staff can be used to give the individual a third point of contact (Figure 9-2). The staff should be used on the upstream side of the individual and slightly leaned upon for support. The staff should be moved first, then the feet shuffled forward to it. This allows two points of contact to be maintained with the streambed at all times. The individual still moves at a downstream angle with the downstream foot in the lead.

Figure 9-2. Individual crossing with staff.

Figure 9-2. Individual crossing with staff.

Team Crossing

When the water level begins to reach thigh deep, or anytime the current is too swift for personnel to safely perform an individual crossing, a team crossing may be used. For chain crossing, two or more individuals cross arms with each other and lock their hands in front of themselves (Figure 9-3). The line formed faces the far bank. The largest individual should be on the upstream end of the line to break the current for the group. The line formed will then move across the stream using the same principles as for individual crossings, but with the added support of each other. The line should cross parallel to the direction of the current. The team still moves at a slight downstream angle, stepping off with the downstream foot in the lead.

Figure 9-3. Chain method for stream crossing.

Figure 9-3. Chain method for stream crossing.

Rope Installations

When the water level begins to reach waist deep or the current is too swift for even a team crossing, the chosen site must be closely examined. The stream at this point may be impassable. Many times though, a crossing site which may be unsafe for individual or team crossings can be made safe with the installation of a handline or rope bridge. Crossing on a handline will still require each individual to enter the water and get wet. If a one-rope bridge can be constructed, it may require only a couple of individuals to enter the water. Deciding whether to install a handline or a rope bridge will depend on the anchors available, height of the anchors above the water, and the distance from the near and far anchors. The maximum distance a one-rope bridge is capable of spanning is approximately 1/2 to 2/3 the length of the rope in use.

a. Establishing the Far Anchor. Whether a handline or rope bridge is to be installed, someone must cross the stream with one end of the rope and anchor it on the far side. This duty should be performed by the most capable and strongest swimmer in the party. The swimmer should be belayed across for his own safety. The belay position should be placed as far above the crossing as possible. In the event that the current is too strong for the individual, he will pendulum back to the near bank. Rescuers should be poised on the near bank at points where the individual will pendulum back, should he fail to reach the far bank. The initial crossing site should be free of obstacles that would snag the rope and prevent the pendulum back to the bank for an easy recovery.

(1) The individual may attach the belay rope to his seat harness or a swami belt with a carabiner. He should NEVER tie directly into the rope when being belayed for a stream crossing. If the swimmer should be swept away and become tangled, he must be able to release himself quickly from the rope and swim to shore as best he can. The individual may also choose to tie a fixed loop into the end of the belay rope and hang on to it, where he can immediately release it in an emergency.

(2) Anytime a crossing site must be used where the swimmer may encounter problems getting to the far bank, he should have on a life vest or other personal flotation device (PFD). If the swimmer must release the rope at any time, he will have to rely on his own water survival skills and swimming ability to get to shore. A PFD will greatly increase his own personal safety. A PFD may also be used by the last man across, as he will release the rope from the anchor and be belayed across as the first man

b. Installation of a Handline. If it is possible to use a rope high enough above the water to enable soldiers to perform a dry crossing, then a rope bridge should be installed as such. If this is impossible, and the rope must be installed to assist in a wet crossing, then it should be installed as a handline (Figure 9-4).

Figure 9-4. Stream crossing using a handline.

Figure 9-4. Stream crossing using a handline.

(1) The far anchor should be downstream from the near anchor so that the rope will run at an angle downstream from the near anchor, approximately thirty to forty-five degrees, rather than straight across the stream. Here again, it is easier to move with the current as opposed to directly across or against it.

(2) The rope may be anchored immediately on the far bank, pulled tight, and anchored on the near bank, or it may be installed with a transport tightening system if a tighter rope is required.

(3) Crossing will always be performed on the downstream side of the handline, shuffling the feet with the downstream foot in the lead.

(4) A second climbing rope is used as a belay (Figure 9-5). One end of the belay rope will be on the near bank and the other end on the far bank. It should be sent across with the strong-swimmer. An appropriate knot is tied into the middle of the belay rope to form two fixed loops with each loop being approximately 6 inches long. One loop is connected to the handline with carabiner(s) and the individual crossing connects one loop to himself. The loops are short enough so the individual is always within arms reach of the handline should he slip and let go. The individuals are belayed from both the near and far banks. If a mishap should occur the individual can be retrieved from either shore, whichever appears easiest. The belay on the opposite shore can be released allowing the individual to pendulum to the bank. It is important that the belay rope NOT be anchored or tied to the belayer so that it may be quickly released if necessary.

Figure 9-5. Belay rope for crossing using a handline.

Figure 9-5. Belay rope for crossing using a handline.

(5) Under most circumstances, the handline should be crossed one person at a time. This keeps rope stretch and load on the anchors to a minimum.

(6) Rucksacks can be either carried on the back the same way as for individual crossings, or they can be attached to the handline and pulled along behind the individual.

(7) If a large amount of equipment must be moved across the stream, especially heavier weapons, such as mortars, recoilless rifles, and so on, then a site should be selected to install a rope bridge.


River and stream crossings present one of the most hazardous situations faced by the military mountaineer. The following safety procedures are minimum guidelines that should be followed when conducting a river or stream crossing.

a. All weak and nonswimmers should be identified before a crossing so that stronger swimmers may give assistance in crossing.

b. Not every river or stream can be crossed safely. It is always possible to cross at a different time or place, use a different technique, or choose another route.

c. The technique used is directly dependent upon water depth, speed of the current, stream bottom configuration, width of the stream, and individual experience.

d. The safest methods of crossing are always with the use of a handline or one-rope bridge.

e. If the installation of a handline or rope bridge becomes too difficult at a given crossing site, then that site should be considered too hazardous and another site selected.

f. A lookout should be posted 50 to 100 meters upstream to watch for any obstacles that may be carried downstream and interfere with the crossing.

g. When conducting individual crossings (those without a handline or rope bridge), lifeguards should be posted downstream with poles or ropes prepared to throw, for assistance or rescue.

h. When the unit knows a rope installation will be required for crossing, at least two life vests or other PFDs should be on hand to provide additional safety for the strong swimmer who must establish the far anchor, and the last man across who retrieves the system.


There are times when you might be alone and have no choice but to swim across, or there may be a time that you find yourself suddenly plunged into a swift river or rapids. In either case, the following techniques could save your life.

a. Immediately jettison any equipment or clothing that restricts movement.

b. Do not try to fight the current. Maneuver towards shore in a position with the feet downstream, facing downstream, and fanning the hands alongside the body to add buoyancy and to fend off submerged rocks. Use the feet to protect the rest of the body and to fend off submerged rocks.

c. Keep the head above water to observe for obstacles and attempt to maneuver away from them.

d. Try to avoid backwater eddies and converging currents as they often contain dangerous swirls. Avoid bubbly water under falls as it has little buoyancy. Breath between the wave troughs.

e. If the shore is too difficult to reach, seek out the closest and safest spot, such as a sandbar, o get yourself out of the water as quickly as possible. Hypothermia will set in quickly in colder waters.

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