Many of you could be faced with the unique challenge of crossing a river during any number of “The End Of The World As We Know It” (TEOTWAWKI) scenarios. I have pre-positioned a respectable stock of supplies at my primary “Get Out Of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) retreat site, however have multiple caches at various locations to ensure my family has a fighting chance at survival. While I hope and pray to be able to evacuate my family safely via vehicle just prior to any TEOTWAWKI scenario. Murphy’s Law reminds us that, “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” Hence any prudent planner should be prepared to evacuate on foot. In this article I will discuss how to successfully cross both open and ice-covered rivers without the use of traditional modern means such as the utilization of bridges and/or boats. I will not be distinguishing between day or night crossings. That choice is left to you after reviewing your specific situation and circumstances.
Before I begin I want to emphasize the importance of not limiting yourself to only the use of main transportation routes that force you to place you and your loved ones at a tactical disadvantage.
Many of the items listed are multifunctional and most of them should already be found in any well-designed Preparedness Kit and/or Bug Out Bag:
- Convenient Carry Case
- Multiple Inflatable Inner Tubes
- Rubber Tire Patch Kit
- 55-Gallon Barrel Liner Bags and/or Heavy Duty Trash Bags
- Compact Manual Bicycle Pump
- 550 Parachute Cord
- Duct Tape
- Topographical Maps
- Camper’s Towel
- Binoculars or Monocular
Recommend Prior Knowledge:
Prior to any crossing, preparations must be taken. It is highly encouraged that all adults and children of appropriate age learn the basics of open water swimming. This should include at a minimum: Treading Water, Front-Crawl, and the Side-Stroke. (Note: Swimming is a life-long skill set and while this method of crossing does not require you to be a strong swimmer, some level of capability and confidence is desired.)
It is also encouraged to clearly know the warning signs, symptoms, and treatment for hypothermia. No matter the weather conditions, hypothermia is of major concern and should always be watched for post any crossing attempt. I can not stress how important this is. Immersion hypothermia is much more rapidly onset and cools the core 25 times faster due to waters excellent conduction factor. Also, most non-mentally and/or physically prepared individuals can swim approximately a half mile in 50° F water. Water colder than 45° F can bring on hypothermia in less than an hour. Wearing clothes will help insulate you when in the water, however will contribute to hypothermia once you emerge from the water. You must have a plan to deal with this. I make my own recommendation (see below). However you need to evaluate your own circumstance and exercise good tactical judgment.
Lastly, you should know the rough guidelines for new clear ice minimum safe thickness. To obtain this information, check with your local Department of Natural Resources (DNR). According to the Minnesota DNR, you need approximately 4 inches of ice for safe individual on-foot travel and anything under 2 inches is considered highly unsafe.
For what ever the reason may be “we” are unable to G.O.O.D. to “our” retreat and are now forced to evacuate “ourselves” and possibly “our family” on foot. By choosing to do so, many of “us” are forced to navigate multiple river crossings. “We‘ve” chosen to avoid bridges, knowing that there often immediately overwhelmed and/or under a controlling force due to there natural design and choking nature.
Non-Fordable Deep Open Water River Crossing
Assemble the following into a convenient carry case: (Multiple Inflatable Inner Tubes, Patch Kit, 55-Gallon Barrel Liner Bags or Heavy Duty Trash Bags, and Compact Manual Bicycle Pump.) The following should be readily available: (550 Parachute Cord, Duct Tape, Knife, Topographical Maps, Camper’s Towel, and Binoculars or Monocular.)
Designate and review a primary and secondary G.O.O.D. evacuation route using a topographic map. If available to you, consult overhead photos via open sources such as “Google Earth,” etc. For an open water river crossing, determine a suitable launching and landing site(s). Be sure to take into consideration both man-made and natural hazards. This includes but is not limited to: (Underwater Debris, Downed Trees, Damns, Docks, Boats, Wildlife, Rocks, and Chemicals.) Be sure to take into consideration the ease and difficulties of getting in and out of the water. An ideal landing site is preferred over a less than ideal launch site. When choosing a landing site, begin your search by taking the width of the river and multiplying that distance by two or three lengths. With that estimation, look that distance down river for suitable landing sites. This approximate area should be at a forty-five / sixty degree angle down river from the launch site. [This depends on the river’s current speed and the river’s width.] After determining your primary landing site, determine a secondary landing site approximately twenty-five feet further down river in the event of an emergency. If multiple crossings will be needed to ferry equipment and/or persons across, ensure you have a landing site pre-determined on the same side of the river as your primary launch site following the above guidelines. (Note: Review your topographic maps when determining your launching and landing sites, and take view of the areas with your binoculars and/or a monocular.)
Now that a launching and landing site have been determined; look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger, begin to assemble your Flotation Aid. The Flotation Aid consist of a inflatable inner tube with an attached makeshift cargo net made from either duct tape and/or 550 parachute cord. Remember that noise travels farther over water than on land.
Begin by inflating an inflatable inner tube with the compact manual bicycle pump. Once inflated, use either duct tape and/or 550 parachute cord to form a makeshift cargo net along the inside of the now inflated inner tube. Once completed you will have successfully made your Floatation Aid.
Place all equipment you wish to keep dry into a 55-gallon barrel liner bag and/or heavy duty trash bag. Next, strip down to the bare minimum amount of clothing and place into bag, along with foot wear. Less is more! You’ll be wet and cold! Once across, you can dry off and get dressed in warm, dry clothes vs. having to wear cold wet clothes for an extended amount of time, and exposing yourself to a higher risk of hypothermia. Then, attach a sheathed knife to your person to be used in the event of becoming entangled in any underwater debris, etc. After placing all items into the bag, seal it. Once completed, proceed to place the bag onto your Flotation Aid resting within the center area. Ensure the bag is well balanced and not easily tipped.
Look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger; carefully enter the water at your launch site along with your Flotation Aid. Double check your Flotation Aid for any deficiencies. Once satisfied, hold the Flotation Aid with one hand to assist in personal flotation and guidance. Begin to swim down river with the current to your predetermined landing site. In the event that you miss your original landing site proceed to your alternate and above all remain calm, control your breathing, and focus on getting to shore.
Upon arrival to your predetermined landing site, beach your Flotation Aid on shore along with yourself. Do not proceed immediately out of the water! Look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger, slowly exit the water with your Flotation Aid and move to an area of good cover. Once ashore, remove any wet clothing your wearing and retrieve your campers towel from your equipment. Dry yourself and proceed to dress in dry clothes. Once dressed, again look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied, assess your condition and look for any warning signs or symptoms of hypothermia. If need be, treat. (NOTE: A good quick way of raising your core temperature is by doing a few mini-jumping jacks, or by huddling over a survival candle under a poncho.) If you chose to wear clothes during your crossing, change into dry clothes As Soon As Possible (ASAP)! During this time, remember to have a tactical mindset in all you do.
Disassemble your Floatation Aid and repack.
Ice-Covered River Crossing
For ice covered river crossings extreme caution is advised! This should be done only after much consideration; your specific climate and location will dictate these circumstances. A key principle to remember when crossing any frozen waterway is “distribution of weight.” When determining a crossing site, look for an area of the river that is straight and/or an area that precedes a bend. Remember, the water is still flowing under the ice and your goal is to cross at a location where the current is slower and consistent. However, this does not guarantee any safer ice conditions.
Assemble the following into a convenient carry case: (Multiple Inflatable Inner Tubes, Patch Kit, 55-Gallon Barrel Liner Bags or Heavy Duty Trash Bags, and Compact Manual Bicycle Pump.) The following should be readily available: (550 Parachute Cord, Duct Tape, Knife, Topographical Maps, Campers Towel, and Binoculars or Monocular.)
Designate and review a primary and secondary (GOOD) evacuation route using a Topographic Map. If available to you, consult overhead photos via open sources such as “Google Earth,” etc… Unlike an open water crossing as described above; you’ll be choosing a suitable launching and landing site parallel to one another. This is due to limiting your total time exposed to the dangers of the ice, along with limiting your time creating a silhouette of yourself when out in the open.
After entry and exits sites have been determined; look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger, begin to assemble your Flotation Aid(s). The Flotation Aid under these conditions is similar to the open water method, however you will need to inflate a second inner tube without a makeshift cargo net attached to it.
Place all equipment you wish to keep dry into a 55-gallon barrel liner bag and/or heavy duty trash bag. Next, remain dressed and attach a sheathed knife to your arm and/or plan to carry it open bladed in hand to act as an ice pick during the crossing. After placing all items into the bag, seal it. Once completed, proceed to place the bag onto your Flotation Aid with the makeshift cargo net; resting within the center area. Ensure the bag is well balanced and not easily tipped. Then, secure a length of 550 parachute cord to the Flotation Aid to act as a dragline. When completed, physically step-into the second Flotation Aid without the makeshift cargo net bringing it up to your waist. This will catch you in the event the ice gives way and limit your exposure. You can also crawl on your stomach with the Flotation Aid directly under you if desired or feel it necessary to redistribute your weight over a larger surface area, based upon the ice conditions.
Look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger; double check your Flotation Aids for any deficiencies. Once satisfied, begin your crossing. Your pace should be slow and steady, do not stop once started unless you have no other option. Be sure to drag the Flotation Aid with your equipment behind you at a safe distance. In the very unfortunate event you go through the ice… Remain calm, breath and use your knife to stab and pull yourself back up onto the ice while using your legs to kick, and continue forward to shore.
Once safely across; look and listen for any suspicious indicators. If satisfied that the area is relatively free of danger, slowly move to an area of good cover. Dry and change clothes if needed, take mental stock of your condition and check for any warning signs or symptoms of hypothermia. If need be, treat. During this time, remember to have a tactical mindset in all you do.
Disassemble your Floatation Aid and repack.
If you’re unable to patch and repair your inflatable inner tubes with your patch kit, do not simply discard them. The inner tube itself can still be used for a variety of things. In the past, I’ve cut mine into small rubber strips and used them as tie-down strips or lashings. The point is to be resourceful with what you have. Just because an item no longer serves it’s original purpose doesn’t mean it can’t continue to be of significant use.
Hopefully you found this helpful, and at a very minimum, it stimulated your mind to think and be resourceful when approaching your environment. I truly hope that TEOTWAWKI never comes, but I’m reassured due to my all hazard planning, preparedness, and tactical mindset that my family and I stand a greater chance of survival compared to the “Joneses” down the street. Take Care and God Bless!