Sunday, December 1, 2019

Landing in Deep Water And Getting Out Again

Zoë Sharp

In my last blog I talked about the instances of flooding in the UK and touched briefly on the problems it causes. Or, more to the point, the mess it leaves behind. Of course, if you actually find yourself caught up in flooding, the last thing that should be on your mind is how you’re going to get raw sewage out of the living room carpet.

You have far more important things to worry about.

Like not drowning.

In a House

If you’re in a building, unless it’s in direct serious danger of becoming completely submerged, they reckon your chances of survival are far greater if you stay inside.

Turn off the mains electricity and gas.

Close all the doors and windows.

Fill empty containers with drinking water as tap water will quickly become contaminated.

If you’ve had enough prior warning, think about moving sentimentally important items onto tables or to an upper floor. If you haven’t had much warning, leave it. Nobody ever said during a eulogy, “She died trying to save her credenza. It was the way she would have wanted to go…”

Move to the uppermost floor with water, food, spare clothing and flashlights. Also take a ladder with you, if one is needed to access the roof space, just in case the water gets really high.

Soon, we'll all be turning to boat-building as a hobby
Pic courtesy of Pixabay

If you are forced to take the the roof, rope together all the members of your party to the chimney, so no-one is swept away. If no rope is available, use bedsheets or blankets, knotted together.

Near a River

Many flash floods occur near rivers, however small they may appear at other times. At the bottom of our garden in Cumbria was a tiny beck that, most of the year, was barely deep or free-flowing enough to fill a bucket. Then one July it turned into a raging torrent, twenty-five feet wide, that was rolling half-ton boulders along in the current as if they were tennis balls. Its course shifted almost thirty feet sideways in a day.

If you’re near a river, check the height of the bank. Deep ones may indicate a large range of water levels, regardless of the current depth of the water.

Be aware of recent weather conditions and any flood warnings in place in the area. It doesn’t have to be heavy rain. Rapid snow-melt can cause flash flooding at lower levels.

This might be a better way to cross a deep river...
Pic courtesy of Pixabay

Flood plains next to rivers are usually obvious. Look for debris from previous floods, like the high-tide mark on a beach.

Don’t camp too near a river. Many people are swept away every year by ignoring this advice. And although it’s not very relevant to the UK, avoid dry riverbeds, also. There’s usually a good reason they used to be rivers.

In a flooding situation, try not to enter a steep-sided area with few ways out—for you or the water.

Crossing Moving Water

If at all possible, avoid having to do this. If you have no choice, don’t try to use rocks or fallen trees—they may be slippery or loose. It is better to keep your footwear on and wade.

Use a stout branch or stick to probe the riverbed ahead of you. It will also give you a gauge of the depth and be valuable added support.

Cross at the point where the water is moving at its slowest, facing the current. That way, you will not be caught by surprise by debris bearing down on you.

Shift one leg forward and then bring the other one to meet it. Don’t try to take strides as you will quickly become unbalanced, even in what appears to be quite slow-moving water.

If you are worried about the depth of the water and you have any containers that will float, or plastic bags that can be filled with air, tie these to your arms.

Great care has to be taken crossing water where you don't know what's on the bottom.
Pic courtesy of Pixabay

If you need to get a group of people across a river that is deeper, or moving faster, the recommended method is by using a rope circle. The strongest person holds the middle of the rope and crosses the river. Once the first is across, the next person can use the rope as a guide, holding on to one section while those on either bank circulate it to gently bring the person from one side to the other. If the crosser should fall, the two anchors should both walk downstream at a pace approximating the current, while circulating the rope to draw the fallen person towards the bank. Standing firm will only serve to drag them under the water.

If no rope is available, the stout stick method can be used, with the strongest people at the front and rear, and the others between them, holding tight to the one directly in front.

Driving Through Water

Again, if you have the option, don’t do it. You will rarely know the depth of the water you’re about to drive into, and more than axle height (about halfway up the road wheel) will sweep away most vehicles. Even four-by-fours have a maximum wading depth.

Better to get wet than be swept away, so find a good stout stick and test the depth using the method described above before you drive in. 

If you can’t see the exit point, are you really sure you want to go in there anyway?

If you have a tow rope with you, it’s best to attach this to the towing eye before you drive into the water as this will make recovery of the vehicle far easier if it does all go wrong.

Enter the water slowly, in a low gear. As the bottom levels out, increase your speed just enough to create a bow wave, which will have a hollow behind it. This will keep the water away from the engine and electrics. As you near the far bank, reduce your speed so the bow wave does not rebound and swamp the vehicle.

Never drive into water that's deeper than your axles
Pic courtesy of Pixabay

This week’s Word of the Week is percontation, which I picked up from fellow crime author M.W. Craven. It’s a punctuation mark, like a backwards question mark, which first appeared in Henry Cockeram’s ENGLISH DICTIONARIE in 1623. It has become one of the accepted forms used in English to denote an ironic, sarcastic, or rhetorical question. It comes from the Latin percontari, to sound with a punting pole, or to enquire.


  1. A message from Brian Price, who found himself unable to post a comment here:

    "Can I respond to Zoë’s excellent piece on floods? If you live in England you can register your phone with the Environment Agency and they will send you a text if floods are expected at your address. (I used to work for them)."

    Very useful info. Thanks, Brian!

  2. You always wow me with your insights on threatening situations. The rope circle is a new one to me, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks, Zoëe