I was voted to close one question on the site that related to crossing a chilly river in a survival scenario. If I have to cross an icy, flowing river, what are some ways I can cross safely?

One of the comments asked for a discussion here - so I'll gladly form the start of things.

For discussion - I see three mandatory readings to filter our place in the SE mindset of what makes a great question (and therefore - what questions are not great)

I will simply open the discussion to see what people think when considering the river question in light of these three posts on question quality.

  • 2
    Thank you, this has helped us to improve the question. Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 1:28

2 Answers 2


I've seen far worse questions - I wouldn't say it had to be closed at all.

Sure, it's not the most specific of things going, and it could be made a lot more specific. But then how far do you go before you get too localised?

I'm in a team of 5 people, 2 of which are competent swimmers and one of which has a sprained ankle. I have 2 carabiners, 20m of rope, but no material around to build a raft. The river is approximately 25m wide, looks relatively deep in the middle but shallow towards the edges. There is a broken precarious looking bridge upstream that doesn't look like it'd hold anyone's weight, and the nearest help is 25 miles away. It's also the middle of winter and we have about an hour of light left.

What's the best way to cross this river?

OK, so I'm playing devil's advocate the other way - but the fact of the matter is the line between when questions are too general and too localised is sometimes a fine one, and people's opinions will differ on this.

Personally I think a few more details such as whether the person is in a group wouldn't go amiss, but much more than that and it'd fall in the "too localised" category. At least in my mind.

I did indeed make assumptions in my answer, but I felt they were fair assumptions to make. Generally speaking if someone is in this sort of situation where they absolutely have to cross then they're a long way from help - otherwise you'd just go back and get help, or consider other options. If you're a long way from help then chances are you're out hiking in some way, shape or form, and if this is the case then you'd be foolish not to have basic supplies such as fuel, paracord, etc. on hand. Granted, it's not the only case where one might find themselves in this situation but it is the most likely.

Granted I didn't elaborate much on choosing a time and a place to cross (in fact I'll go add that now!) but that wasn't because I spent the time on other parts of the answer - I could have just as easily added that in anyway and made the answer a bit longer!

  • I'd say once we have three awesome, detailed river crossing questions that are highly specific, then perhaps you can start closing good ones as too localized. This is a wonderful example of a hypothetical and open ended question.
    – bmike
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 4:45

Although there are some great answers - I would argue that this question as worded today is:

  • unanswerable in the sense that the question is too vague and each answer provided so far is clearly very different and none of them can be chosen as the answer to that question.
  • insufficiently specific, not abundantly useful to others, and lacks "homework" or research to frame the question and make it clear to all what level of experience and what context this question was asked.
  • far too close to bad-subjective when it could easily shaped into a good subjective question.

I would like to expand a bit and play devil's advocate.

Wouldn't this question be so much better and more instructive if the OP detailed what he (or she) meant by survival conditions?

Why exactly must one cross the river? Specifying that will go great lengths to constraining the answer and illuminating why the chosen strategy is simply the best practical answer to this obviously theoretical question. What is this other than a discussion at this point?

I would say we really have a poll question asking for and and all river crossing hypothetical situations.

  • berry120 does some convincing the OP not to cross the river, then lays out the necessary detail that should be included in the question and then gives some great advice. It makes many assumptions (rope, heating supplies, ) so it can't spend answer time on the critical parts of the answer - how to choose the time and place of a crossing.

  • Bror Johnson also has to first establish a context - and it's subjectively different than the other answers. It gives advice but doesn't explain why other than asserting experience in Swedish mountains. We can't know if the OP is in Puerto Rico where a very cold river flows down El Junque but no-one would worry about stripping down since the cold water isn't an element of the survival situation. Due to lack of detail, answers don't know the context of this question and can't give the best answer both for the OP and for others to learn.

  • Lagerbaer similarly comes up with different constraints with a group of three or more people crossing the river together. Is this answer wrong? Are the others right? Again, since the question isn't sharp enough, Lagerbaer returns to arguing against the premise that due to survival, a crossing must take place.

I don't think this is the worst question ever or the site is in dire need of closing it. I do think it could very easily be edited into something far more polished and useful and really something for the site to be proud of once as we seek to attract users. The sooner the site starts self-editing loose questions or closing them until they get shaped up, the better I see things rolling out. I could be wrong, though so do let me know how you all feel about this.

  • 3
    Why not take a swing at fixing it? Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 23:44
  • It needs material changes - more than I'm comfortable editing unless the OP declines to refine it. I'll check in a week...
    – bmike
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 4:39

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