Category Archives: Water Survival

Swimmer Rescue

Navy Search and Rescue Training

Photo by TSgt Chris Hibben

Rescue Techniques Refresher

THIS video, produced by Lifeguards Without Borders is a good introduction to lifeguard rescue techniques.

As a disclaimer and caution, the video was produced for use by lifesaving professionals. Rescuing a drowning person in the ocean is extremely risky. In the event of a drowning emergency, summon a lifeguard, call 911, throw something that floats to the drowning victim, or attempt to reach them with a long pole or stick as a last resort, in that order. Never compromise your own safety to attempt to save someone else. Lifeguards receive extensive training and have specialized equipment to deal with drowning emergencies.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Rafts and Rope Crossing


Photo by John Helms

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio/Strength – 4 sets of: 400m run/10 dips/400m run/50 situps/400m run/10 pullups/400m run/50 pushups. Warm up and cool down distance at discretion.
  • Practice the floatation methods described below in a pool or open water until mastered.
  • Review rope care in the General Rescue Manual 2006 Sec-5-8.
  • Review climbing knots Here.

Closed Cell Sleeping Pad Raft

Construction of a closed cell sleeping pad raft is time-consuming. This type of raft should not be employed tactically (i.e., an attack) but used for logistical purposes (i.e., evacuating stretcher cases, transporting supplies). Use the following steps to build the raft:

  • Wrap closed cell sleeping pads around sturdy sticks.
  • Use parachute cord and square knots to tie the pads securely in place and to lash stick ends together in a rectangle.

isomatraftThe sleeping pad raft pictured can support several hundred pounds. However, the cargo will get wet if not properly waterproofed.

Poncho/Tarp Raft

A poncho or tarp raft can support two swimmers and their equipment and is well suited for long crossings. Use the following steps to build a poncho raft:

  • Inspect two ponchos/tarps and ensure they are serviceable.
  • Lay one poncho or tarp flat on the ground, with the hood-side up (if a hood is present).
  • Cinch the hood tightly to form a gooseneck or tie in a knot.


  • Pad sharp edges of equipment and place the equipment in the center of the poncho.


  • Place the second poncho over the equipment, rubber side up, and hood facing down.
  • Snap the edges of the two ponchos together.


  • Roll the edges toward the equipment.
  • Roll the edges into pigtails and tie them off.

poncho roll

  • Pull the pigtails together over the top and lash them securely.


  • Protect the raft from brush punctures while placing it in the water. Swim across the water obstacle while security elements are covering the far shore.


Pack Raft

You will need two waterproofed packs and two rifles/rigid poles. The following steps are guidelines to construct a pack raft:

  • Place two packs side-by-side with the pack frames on the deck. The tops of the packs are opposite of each other.
  • Loosen the main compartment straps on both packs.
  • Insert one rifle on each end between the straps and the packs.
  • The muzzles are opposite of each other. The rifles serve as one means to secure the packs together. Place the front sight post under the top flap.
  • Tighten the straps so that the rifles and packs are secure.
  • Take the excess strap on the inner side of each pack and secure it to the opposite pack to better secure the two packs together.
  • Take the excess straps on the outer sides of the packs and use those straps as safety lashing for the rifles.
  • Tuck the excess straps and check to make sure the rifles and packs are secure.


Single-Rope Bridge

A single-rope bridge offers a temporary and quick way to cross small rivers. It also provides extra security while crossing swift waters. At night, it prevents straggling, and guides larger units precisely from one side of the river to the other side. If crossing a river at night, plan for at least one single-rope bridge. If you are crossing a river with swift currents or water depths above 4 feet, the unit is carrying sufficient rope to span the crossing site, and the tactical situation permits, secure the rope on near and far banks to provide a hand-hold for crossing swimmers. This reduces the time required for the entire unit to cross and provides a degree of comfort/confidence for poor swimmers. Use a squad-sized bridge team to construct a single-rope bridge. Station several strong swimmers at the water’s edge to help anyone who has trouble crossing.

Nylon rope is normally coiled in 120 foot lengths. It is 0.6 inches in diameter and has a breaking strength of about 3,840 pounds. Over time, a nylon rope can stretch to as much as one-third more than its original length and stretching weakens the rope. If the rope is stretched, discard the rope or use it for light tasks. To prolong the life of a nylon rope, do not step on it or drag it on the ground. Pad the rope in places where it contacts rocks or sharp corners. Do not leave the rope knotted or stretched longer than necessary. Dry rope as soon as possible. Single-rope bridge construction is as follows:

  • Tie a sling rope around your waist using a square knot and two, separate half hitches. See the link above for detailed information on knots.


  • Attach a locking steel carabiner to the sling rope.
  • Tie a bowline knot in the running end of the bridge rope and attach it to the carabiner.
  • Temporarily secure the other end of the rope to a tree on the near shore.
  • Enter and cross the water. Carry only your weapon and ammunition.
  • Exit the water on the opposite shore.


  • Prepare your weapon for use. Unhook the bridge rope from the carabiner at your waist, and tie the bridge rope to a sturdy tree using a round turn and two half hitches.


  • Conduct a box reconnaissance of the opposite shore.
  • On the near shore, have another swimmer prepare to tighten the rope. That swimmer should place a transport tightening system in the bridge rope by tying a double butterfly knot and placing two carabiners on the butterfly knot.


  • The swimmer should pass the running end of the bridge rope around the downstream side of the near shore anchor point and through the two carabiners.
  • Pull the butterfly knot approximately one-third of the distance across the river.
  • Secure the bridge rope to an anchor point using a round turn and two half-hitches.
  • On the near shore, the person helping you should pull the slack out of the bridge rope until the butterfly knot is back on the near side. The bridge rope is then tied off against itself using two half hitches with a quick release in the last half hitch.

The single-rope bridge must be as tight as possible so it will not sag when used. If you lose your footing and fall into the water, swim with the current to the closest shore. Swimming against the current is dangerous and quickly causes fatigue.

High and Dry Crossings

If the single-rope bridge is high enough, suspend yourself below the single-rope bridge and above the water. Use the following steps to suspend yourself from a single-rope bridge and then pull yourself across the water:

  • Tie a sling rope around your waist using a bowline. Ensure that the knot is tight.


  • Attach a carabiner through the bowline’s loop. The carabiner’s gate faces up.
  • Secure your helmet, if any. Face the single-rope bridge with your left shoulder toward the far shore.
  • Grasp the bridge rope in both hands.
  • Swing your body beneath the single-rope bridge with your head toward the far shore. Cross your ankles above the bridge rope.
  • Arch back until the carabiner contacts the bridge rope. Connect the carabiner to the bridge rope. Allow the carabiner to bear your body’s weight.
  • Pull yourself across the single-rope bridge, hand over hand, to the far shore.

sling5Swift Current Crossings

A single-rope bridge prevents being knocked down and swept away by a swift current. Use the following steps to move through a swift current:

  • Tie one end of a sling rope around your waist using a bowline.
  • Tie the running end of the sling rope in another bowline, and attach a carabiner to the bowline’s loop.
  • Step up to the bridge. Face upstream.
  • Hook the carabiner to the single-rope bridge.
  • Walk sideways into the river while grasping the bridge rope in both hands.
  • Use the single-rope bridge for balance and remain standing, if possible.
  • Continue to move sideways through the river to the far shore.

Slow Current Crossings

If you face little or no current, it is not necessary to hook up to a bridge rope with a carabiner. Lie on your back in the water beneath the single-rope bridge. Support your body weight with your waterproofed pack. Use the bridge rope and pull yourself hand over hand across the river.

Removal of Rope Bridges

If you are the last person waiting to cross, pull on the standing end of the rope to release the knot, then tie the rope around your waist using a bowline. The others on the far shore will pull you through the water.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Crossing Rivers and Canals

MC1 Peter Lewis

MC1 Peter Lewis

To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 1hr Swim // Strength – Leg group
  • Friday rules in effect 1730

Rivers and Canals

A river is a large, natural stream of water that empties into a larger body of water. The slope of the riverbed and the volume of water in the river determine its current. Canals resemble small rivers or streams in their width and depth, but usually lack any significant current. Climbing out of these waterways can be difficult if the canal is flanked by steep banks.


A ford is any site in a river, stream, or canal where the water is shallow enough for people or vehicles to cross without using flotation devices. Canal bottoms are usually too soft to support fording vehicles, and waders frequently stumble. The tactical situation dictates the  location of the fording site. Seek fords that are protected from enemy observation and that allow for adequate supporting fires if available. A night fording takes at least one and a half times as long as a daylight fording. The term “river” refers to rivers, streams, and canals.

The following table identifies desirable fording characteristics:

  • Concealment. The ford hides personnel and vehicle movement from enemy observation.
  • Accessibility. The ford should have low banks with gentle gradients. This allows a free flow of traffic at both the entrance and the exit.
  • Slow Current. The fords current should not exceed 1.5 meters per second if possible.
  • Firm Footing. The ford’s bottom, entry, and exit composition should be firm enough to support  traffic. Do not drive a vehicle over any bottom composition that a 2-inch diameter stick can be pressed into more than 1 or 2 inches.
  • Gently Sloped Channels. The ford’s entry and exit points should be gently sloped. If possible, locate a  portion of the stream where the channel is not actively shifting.
  • Depth. The fording depth is less than or equal to the least capable vehicle.

Determine Waterway Slope

Units move into and out of water faster and more quietly if entry and exit points are not steep or muddy. Slope is the amount of change in ground horizontal distance (run) and in vertical elevation (rise) from one point to another. Slope is usually expressed as a percentage. You can use a clinometer, map, or line of sight and pace to measure the percentage of a slope.

  • Map. A map measures the horizontal distance along a desired path. Determine the difference in elevation between the path’s starting and ending points. From a map’s scale, you can determine the distance between two points. From a map’s elevation lines, you can determine the difference in height between the same two points. Both figures must be in the same unit of measure (e.g., feet, meter). Divide the elevation (rise) by the distance (run) and multiply by 100.


  • Line of Sight and Pace. To determine line of site and pace, stand at the bottom of the slope, keep your eyes level, pick a spot on the slope, then pace the distance. The number of paces  multiplied by a standard measure of 0.75 meter determines the run. The eye-level height (usually1.5 to 1.7 meters) determines the rise. Repeat this procedure until you have covered the entire distance you want to measure for each spot (vertical and horizontal). Add the vertical distances to provide total rise and the horizontal distances to provide total run.

Determine Current Speed

Current speed increases as channels narrow. It may be necessary to locate a wider ford location to obtain a slower stream current. The following steps are used to calculate the speed of the current:map2

  • Determine points A and B along a channel. Then measure the distance between those two points.
  • Sight directly across the water from points A and B to locate points C and D.
  • Throw a floating object (e.g., a stick) upstream from points A and C. Observe the object as it floats toward points B and D.
  • Subtract to find the time it takes for the object to float from start to finish.

Do not attempt to swim across currents unassisted that are moving faster than 1.5 meters per second. Equivalents of this speed include:

  • Quick-time march rate of 120 counts per minute with one, 30-inch step at each count.
  • 5 feet per second.
  • 3.5 miles per hour.
  • 5.5 kilometers per hour.

Measure Waterway Width

A river’s width can be estimated from the width of its symbol on a scaled topographic map. If this is not possible, use the following compass techniques:map3

  • Stand at the water line (A).
  • Shoot an azimuth to a point on the opposite bank (B).
  • Move upstream or downstream until you are at a point (C) where you can shoot an azimuth 45 degrees larger or smaller than the original azimuth.
  • Measure the distance between points A and C. The distance calculated equals the river’s width.

Calculate Downstream Drift

A river’s current will cause personnel and equipment to drift down-stream. If personnel and equipment are aimed straight across the river, they will sideslip downstream as they move across the current to the other shore. Therefore crossings must compensate for the effects of a river’s current. Water entry is usually made upstream of the desired exit point. Use the formula below to calculate downstream drift:

map4NOTE: The crossing speed for a swimmer across a river may vary but is generally limited to 1 meter per second. All measurements must be in the same unit of measure (e.g., meters, feet).

The Buddy System

Whenever you must enter into or operate on the water, a “buddy system” should be employed in which each swimmer is paired with another. The buddy system matches an experienced swimmer with a weak swimmer. The experienced swimmer assists and encourages the weaker swimmer and bolsters confidence during night crossings. If a group has an odd number of swimmers, place the extra person with another pair to form a three person team.

Care of Weapons

Most modern weapons and munitions are designed to be able to operate after immersion. However, protect your weapons from moisture whenever possible. A gas-operated weapon can malfunction if water travels down the barrel and enters the gas tube. To protect the gas tube:

  • Close the weapon’s bolt before entering the water.
  • Seal the muzzle with a condom, balloon, plastic spoon wrapper, or other form of waterproof material.
  • Tie or melt the protective cover to create a watertight seal.

When the muzzle’s protective cover is no longer needed, remove it. Open the bolt and inspect the barrel. If the tactical situation permits, swab excess moisture from the barrel. Test fire automatic weapons, if possible. Field strip and clean weapons as soon as possible. If time does not allow for a complete inspection, rinse inaccessible areas with small amounts of diesel fuel, then dry.


Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.