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Water & River Crossings in your 4WD – 6 Tips and Tricks

By January 5, 20184 Wheel Driving, Tips

Keep these 6 easy tips in mind next time your cross a river in your 4wd. They will help you stay dry, and even stay alive!

GU Patrol crossing a river

When I come across a decent river crossing, I don’t know about you but I can get a little bit nervous. Some of that is excitement – personally I reckon river crossings are one of the most thrilling parts of what we do as 4WDers.

The other part, well that’s just plain nerves. There’s a whole pile of things that can go wrong if your not prepared for a crossing.

Luckily, there’s a bunch of things we can do to make sure we have the best chance of getting to the other side safely.

1. Hope For the Best; Plan for the worst

A good attitude for any 4wding, especially riskier activities: assume the worst – eg. you are going to get stuck before you cross.

That means having all your gear ready, and the key recovery gear already hooked up (particularly in deeper crossings). You don’t want to be hooking up a snatch strap or running out the winch rope while your rigs taking on water!

Using this mindset means that either; you get across safely and you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Or if something does go wrong, you are ready for action immediately.

Getting stuck in water can spell disaster, but there’s a small window of time where if you act quickly, you can get out before any major damage is done.

The 7 P’s – “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. Couldn’t be truer for something like a river crossing.

Although 9 times out of 10 things go somewhat according to plan, there’s always that tenth time (especially if your getting out on the tracks as much as you’d like!)

2. Check out the River Crossing

First thing you need to do is determine a few things about the crossing; How long is it? How deep is the water? What’s on the bottom – rocks? sand? pebbles? What’s the best line? And how fast is it moving?

The easiest way to find out is to get your feet wet – go for a walk and check it out!

Remember only walk the crossing when its safe to do so. We don’t advise walking any crossings where there could the crocs!

If the water is moving too fast for you to get across, the decision is simple, you can’t drive it.

Remember that in moving water, when it’s higher than your undercarriage the current will begin to push up against your car body. Because this significantly increases the surface area that the water can push against, there’s a much higher chance of getting swept downstream.

3. Pick a Gear and Stick To It

When your trying to get across, the last thing you need to be worrying about is changing speeds and changing gears – there’s plenty else to be focused on.

Choosing the right gear from the start means you can concentrate on getting to the other side. This also means there’s less chance of water getting into the clutch, which could very easily ruin your trip.

Personally, I prefer second gear (low range) and this is good for most conditions you will come across.

Depending on the speed and depth of the river, or even the conditions of the river bed, 1st gear will be too slow, and 3-4th will be too fast for a controlled entry into the water. 2nd low will allow a smooth entry but also enough up and go to get moving and create a bow wave, one of the most important things once your in the water.

4. Create a Bow Wave

A bow wave is a small wave the you create at the front of your car. This pushes the water ahead of your vehicle and makes it shallower at your bonnet – this helps keep more water out of your engine bay and keeps the momentum of your crossing by keeping the water moving ahead of you.

To create a bow wave, enter the water at a calm but consistent pace (5-10km/hr). Once your in the water, back off the accelerator just a little bit, allowing the water you have started moving to get ahead of you by a meter or so.

You should see it move ahead – if it starts to splash up and over your bonnet, either the water is too deep or you’ve gone in too fast.

By keeping up a small, gentle momentum, you should have created a small wave that will help guide you to the other side.

5. Use a Water Bra

Water Bras (or blinds) help keep the water pressure squeezing into your engine bay and flooding your engine. They stop the risk of water forcing the fan into your radiator. A punctured radiator could quite easily end your trip early or worse, leave your stranded.

Though they do not completely waterproof your vehicle (they are not a submarine kit), they do a lot to help keep it out over a short period – perfect for those deep crossings!

Water Bra kits are available from any 4WD store, for around $100, and are a good purchase if you think you’ll be going near the water on your next trip.

However sometimes in the bush the nearest 4WD shop is a fair jaunt away – In these times, a good hack for a substitute water bra can be as simple as attaching a tarp over your bonnet.



Although not the perfect solution, this performs the same purpose and will definitely reduce (but not prevent) the risk of drowning your vehicle mid crossing!

6. Aircon On or Windows Down – Pick One

As always, safety is paramount in these risky situations. In hairier crossing where your guts telling you it’s a bit of a risk, always make sure you have your windows down (at least the ones facing downstream) and your seatbelt is OFF.

This gives you an option for a quick exit, and one less thing to think about if shit starts to hit the fan.

For crossings where your feeling more confident and you’re more worried about getting wet carpets, a good trick is to leave the aircon on full blast.

This helps pressurise the cabin, and helps stop the water from outside from leaking in through the door seals.

This is a similar trick to what we use in another tip, “How to keep the dust out of your 4WD”. It can be ok to have your windows up for this, but ONLY if you deem the river to be moving slow enough to not be a risk to your safety.

Aircon settings

Hopefully after reading this guide, you have the knowledge, tips and techniques you need to give one a go yourself.

Know any great river crossings that you love? Or do you have a tip that we have missed out? Leave us a comment below or get in touch with us to add it to this blog! We love learning from our followers, and in our community we’re here to help each other wherever we can.

Until next time, keep living to explore life!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Billy says:

    Hi guys 4×4 is new to me .
    Seen a few of your shows find them interesting. You do a good job with them i enjoy the tips don’t want to sink or roll over
    Cheers

    • Elliot Mann says:

      G’day Billy,

      Thanks! Glad your enjoying our content.
      I’m sure you will love getting our there in your 4WD, just remember to think safety as accidents can happen quickly.
      Enjoy the 4WD life!

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