Gone Outdoors

How to Tread Water

by Ben Team

A variety of wilderness accidents can leave you stranded in deep water until help can arrive. The only way to survive such situations is by treading water -- that is, remaining vertical and afloat by paddling your arms and kicking your feet. While treading water is an energy-intensive activity, proper technique can help you to tread water for extended periods of time.

Scull the Hands

Most people instinctively move their hands up and down when trying to tread water. This causes you to bob up and down, rather than stay comfortably at the water’s surface. Instead, move your hands in the horizontal plane -- a technique called sculling. Cupping your hands and pointing them forward, bring your outstretched arms in front of you, and then rotate your wrists and push your hands outward. If you are doing the motion correctly, you should feel it in your chest when bringing your hands together, and in your back when you spread your hands apart. Alternatively, you can hold your arms out from your sides and move your hands in a figure-eight pattern.

Beat the Eggs

You can use virtually any kick to keep you afloat for a short time, but most kicks will exhaust you relatively quickly. The most energy-efficient method for treading water is a technique called the eggbeater kick. To do this, pull your legs up toward your chest so that they are perpendicular to the main axis of your body -- as though you are sitting in a chair. Then move your lower left leg in an inward circle, followed by your lower right leg. Though awkward at first, you will soon learn to move your legs in a smooth, coordinated manner that resembles the movements of an eggbeater. Practice the kick in a controlled environment until you can do it without thinking about it.

Tighten Your Technique

Once you have mastered the basic eggbeater kick and sculling, concentrate on refining your technique. Instead of pointing your toes, pull your toes and feet back when using the eggbeater kick. This keeps you more stable in the water, as it increases the drag of your leg. This also displaces more water with each kick, which makes the technique more energy efficient.

Control Your Breathing

Treading water in a survival situation requires optimum energy efficiency, so that you can survive as long as it takes help to arrive. The quicker you breathe, the sooner you will tire. The oxygen you inhale stokes your internal fires and burns calories. Accordingly, you want to keep your breaths slow and deep to last as long as possible. Additionally, deep breaths fill your lungs with more air, which helps to keep you floating higher in the water. When you need to rest, roll over on your back and float with your face above water until you are re-energized to tread water again.

Photo Credits

  • Patrick Heagney/iStock/Getty Images