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.

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