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Mountain Safety Council Says Don’t Underestimate Rivers

22 May 2014

Mountain Safety Council Says Don’t Underestimate the Dangers Associated With Rivers

The recent tragic tramping incident on the Milford Track in Fiordland highlights the need for all trampers, regardless of their experience, to take extreme care when encountering rivers.

Any period of heavy rain can cause waterways to rise rapidly, which means that even the smallest side stream can present considerable challenges.

Rivers represent one of the most significant hazards in the outdoors, even without additional rainfall. The Mountain Safety Council therefore urges anyone heading into the outdoors to be aware of the dangers associated with rivers and pay particular attention to weather forecasts before leaving.

“We encourage people to consider what that weather forecast will mean for their trip,” says Mountain Safety Council Outdoor Land Safety Programme Manager, Nathan Watson. ‘Could it impact my safety?’ is a question people should ask themselves,” he added.

The extensive track network in New Zealand allows Kiwis and tourists alike to explore and enjoy some of the world’s most incredible places. However, easy accessibility also exposes people to an environment and terrain that changes extremely quickly, and that requires more preparation, the need to take personal responsibility and self-reliance.

“We want more people to go into the outdoors as it is good for them and it’s good for our country. However, these experiences need to be safe and in order to do that they require careful planning and smart decision making.

While there is extensive safety information available, this doesn’t always reach every outdoor user and it doesn’t necessarily sit at the front of someone’s mind when they’re faced with a decisions such as whether to cross a river or not,” says Mr Watson.

“Before you leave make sure you’ve followed the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code. At face value they’re quite straightforward but it’s often one of these rules, not followed effectively, that catches people out,” added Mr Watson.

The Mountain Safety Council recommends a cautious approach to rivers.

“When you get to any river crossing stop, take a moment to compose yourself and assess the situation. There’s no hurry. If the river is in flood, has obvious discolouration, there is debris floating down or its moving at a speed faster than a normal walking pace, you really have to ask yourself ‘is this safe?’

If you do decide it’s safe to cross always employ the mutual support technique. This method is a ‘strength in numbers’ approach where the combined stability of a small group is safer than individuals.

“Stopping to wait for the water level to decrease, turning back to the last hut/campsite or finding an alternative and safe crossing point is a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that outdoor users need to be prepared to take” says Mr Watson.

For more information regarding river safety and how to enjoy the outdoors safely, please visit

The New Zealand Outdoor Safety Code:

1. Plan your trip
Seek local knowledge and plan the route you will take and the amount of time you can reasonably expect it to take.

2. Tell someone
Tell someone your plans and complete written Outdoors Intentions BEFORE leaving on your trip. Use the free tools that make it easy on the website. At the very least, tell a friend or family member where you are going and date and time to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned.

3. Be aware of the weather
New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes. Check track and hut conditions. Beware of rivers – if in doubt STAY OUT.

4. Know your limits
Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. Take a Mountain Safety Council course.

5. Take sufficient supplies
Make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication such as a Mountain Radio or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and know how to use them.

About the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council
The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) is a national organisation with a mandate from our member organisations to encourage safe participation in land-based outdoor activities.

We facilitate the setting of standards, offer training and education opportunities, create and distribute resources, lead public awareness campaigns and foster positive support in the community so that more people can discover and enjoy New Zealand’s outdoors safely.


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