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Waterborne Operations

Section I. GENERAL

The inland waterways and jungle coastal or delta regions are land environments dominated by water routes. There may be one or more major waterways and an extensive network of smaller waterways. Usable roads are scarce, and cross-country movement is extremely difficult. The following describes jungle waterways.


The headwaters of a waterway are usually formed in a mountainous region. The headwaters consist of numerous tributaries which merge to form a river system as the water flows down to the valley. Headwaters are characterized by waterfalls, rapids, and variations in water depth, all of which restrict the use of watercraft.


When the waterway reaches the central valley, it has formed a broad river which is usually navigable for great distances inland. This river is usually fed by numerous tributaries. In those jungles where there are definite dry and rainy seasons, many of the tributaries found during the rainy season may not exist during the dry season. The river in the valley is wide, slow, and often meanders. During periods of heavy rainfall, the course of the river may change. The jungle vegetation grows up along the riverbanks to form an almost solid wall. The banks of the river are often steep and slippery. Many of the navigable tributaries feeding the major river will often be completely overgrown with vegetation and contain obstacles such as fallen trees.



  I. General

 II. Preparing for Operations

III. Using Jungle Waterways


When the river reaches the low coastal area, it spreads over a flat, alluvial plain and becomes a number of river tributaries (small streams or channels spreading fanlike from the main channel) disbursing a great amount of sediment into a gulf, bay, or ocean. Usually, there are many large and small tidal streams and channels, whose current may change speed or reverse with the tide in a predictable manner. Bottoms of the tributaries normally slope up to a crest or bar at the river's mouth. In some instances, only watercraft with a draft (that part of the craft under water) of 1 to 2 meters will be able to cross the crest or bar at high tide.



The fundamentals and tactics applicable in conventional ground operations apply in waterborne operations. However, special organization, equipment, and techniques are required when ground forces are supported by Navy ships and craft. The waterborne force should be employed with all available modes of transportation to seek out and destroy the enemy and his installations. One portion of the force may enter the area by watercraft; another may enter by helicopters; still another may enter the area by moving overland. All units then maneuver to attack the enemy. All available fire support should be used in the operation: close air support, attack helicopters, waterborne and landbased artillery, and naval gunfire. Special considerations in the conduct of jungle waterborne operations include the following:

  • The heavy vegetation along the banks of inland waterways offers excellent concealment and enhances the effectiveness of ambushes against watercraft. Therefore, counterambush measures must be planned in conjunction with all water movements. Steep, slippery river banks coupled with dense vegetation often make committing the waterborne force in a coordinated assault landing extremely difficult.
  • Security measures during the movement phase along a jungle waterway include proper watercraft formations, constant water patrolling, and air observation, when possible. Fire support to include mortar, artillery, close air support, and available naval gunfire must be preplanned for all water movements.
  • Intelligence is critical along jungle waterways. While aerial reconnaissance yields a considerable amount of information, it will have to be supplemented by reconnaissance by boat, especially in areas where tributaries are overgrown by vegetation.



The use of inland and coastal waterways can add flexibility, surprise, and speed to tactical operations in jungle areas. Use of these waterways will also increase the load-carrying capacity of units which normally operate dismounted. Thus, every combat leader should be familiar with the tactical and technical aspects of small boat handling.

Boats may be powered by outboard motors, paddles, or oars. The mission, availability, and the river itself dictate the method of propulsion to be used.

Motors are noisy. On the other hand, they provide speed, reduce fatigue, and free personnel for security missions. The noise form motors can be heard for distances of 500 to 1,000 meters by day and up to 5,000 meters at night (sound carries better in the quieter, cooler night air). Provided the craft is not seen and the motor does not change pitch, however, it is difficult to estimate the direction of the sound and exactly how far away it is. Bearing these factors in mind, troops may be able to disguise a movement by deceptive tactics such as having other craft work the area. Stopping the motor when traveling downstream will also aid the security of movement.

Paddling is a slow and tiring process, but it is quieter than using motors. (With plastic, wooden, or metal craft, paddles may need to be wrapped with cloth to reduce noise when the paddles strike the craft.)


Before a waterborne operation, each person in a boat is assigned a specific boat position and a corresponding number. (This is the long count method of organization. )

NOTE: The unit, normally a squad, that uses the RB-15 for transportation actually comprises the crew that operates it. All others that do not operate the boat are passengers.

First, the crewmembers are assigned their positions. Next, the passengers are assigned their positions. When using an RB-15, for example, the crewmembers are assigned positions 1 through 11, and the passengers are assigned positions 12 through 15. One person is designated as the boat commander (normally the coxswain). Two persons are designated as a navigator-observer team.

For operational purposes, the crew is organized into pairs. Passengers are not numbered in this method. (This is the short count method of organization.) When using the RB-15, for example, the crewmembers (in pairs) are assigned to operational positions 1 through 5.

Crew duties:

  • The coxswain is responsible for the control of the boat and action of the crew. He supervises the loading, lashing, and distribution of equipment, He also maintains the course and speed of the boat.
  • The number 1 paddler (long count method) is the observer and is responsible for the storage and use of the bowline.
  • The number 2 paddler (long count method) is responsible for setting the stroke.
  • All paddlers are responsible for loading and lashing the equipment in their respective compartment.


Each crewmember and passenger must wear a life preserver.

The load-carrying equipment harness is worn unbuckled at the waist.

The rifle is slung outside of the life preserver, opposite the outboard side, with the muzzle down.

Crew-served weapons, radios, ammunition, and other bulk equipment are lashed securely to the boat to prevent loss if the boat should overturn.

Radios, batteries, and unboxed ammunition are waterproofed.

Hot weapons are cooled prior to being placed in the boat to prevent damage to the boat or injury to personnel.

Pointed objects are padded to prevent puncture of the boat.

The most effective equipment-lashing system that has been developed is the RB-15 lashing system. This system is quick and easy to install, requires no special equipment, and prevents loss of equipment in the event the craft is capsized. It also allows the craft to be easily righted.

The equipment needed in this lashing system is:

Ten sling ropes--

  • Three for capsize lines.
  • One for securing the M60.
  • Six for rigging the RB-15.

Nine snaplinks--

  • Two for securing the M60.
  • Four for securing rucksacks.
  • Three for the center line.

The average squad can fully rig and lash an RB-15, using this system, in approximately 15 minutes.


"Short Count, count off." Crew counts off their positions by pairs, for example, 1,2,3,4, 5, coxswain (RB-15).

"Long count, count off." Crew counts off their positions by individuals, for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, coxswain (RB-15).

"Boat stations." Crew takes position along side of boat.

"High carry, move" (used for long distance moves overland).

"Lower the boat, move." Crew lowers the boat gently to the ground using carrying handles.

"Give way together." Crew paddles to the front, with Number 2 setting the stroke for the rest of the crew.

"Hold." Entire crew keeps paddles motionless in the water, thereby stopping the boat.

"Hold left (right)." Left crewmembers hold, right crewmembers continue with previous command.

"Back paddle." Entire crew paddles backward. This action propels the boat to the rear.

"Back paddle left (right)." Left crewmembers back paddle causing the boat to turn left, right crewmembers continue with previous command.

"Rest paddles." Crewmembers place paddles on their laps with blades outboard. This command may be given to pairs, i.e., "Number 1' s rest paddles."


When launching, the crew maintains a firm grip on the boat until they are inside the boat; similarly, when landing, they hold onto the boat until it is completely out of the water.

The crew stays as low as possible when entering and leaving the boat to avoid capsizing it.

Crewmembers can load or unload a boat either by individuals or in pairs. They load and unload a boat by individuals at steep river banks and along shoreline where the water is deep near the shore. They also load or unload from or into a larger vessel such as a landing craft, mechanized (LCM), by individuals.

The crewmembers load or unload individually according to their number in the long count method. The coxswain directs them by saying, "One in (out), two in (out), " etc.

The crewmembers load and unload a boat in pairs when at shallow water riverbanks. They load or unload in pairs according to their number in the short count method. The coxswain directs them by saying, "Ones in (out), twos in (out)," etc.


Helocasting is an excellent method for deploying troops and equipment in any terrain in which water courses exist. This technique involves a CH-47 helicopter, a 15-man rubber boat (RB-15), and a squad. The RB-15 is loaded with the squad's rucksacks, crew-served weapons, radios, and other heavy mission-essential items. All this equipment is kept in the RB-15 by a lashing system. At the desired time, the RB-15 is pushed off the ramp and into the water. The squad follows it, exiting the CH-47 in two columns off the tailgate. Drop speed is 20-25 knots and drop altitude is 10-20 feet. The water should have little or no current and should be free of all obstacles, including seaweed and stumps, and be at least 15 feet deep.

The only preparation necessary for the CH-47 is that two lengths of rollers must be installed in the center of the tailgate. The two rearward set of seats on each side of the CH-47 must be raised to fit the RB-15 inside. Personnel wear fatigues (boots unbloused, shirts out, sleeves rolled down, top button fastened), load-carrying equipment, and an individual life preserver. The individual weapon is tied to the individual in such a manner that it can be raised overhead when the individual exits the CH-47.

The RB-15 lashing system is used in rigging and lashing the rubber boat with the respective equipment. The boat is placed on the roller system and moved into the CH-47, bow first. On signal, it is pushed out by the castmaster and coxswain or RB-15 commander. Once the RB-15 is in the water, the squad follows it. The first man to the boat makes a quick inspection for damage and accountability of equipment, frees the paddles, and starts paddling the boat toward the rest of the squad. If the boat capsizes, it can be easily righted using standard drills.

This technique can be used without the RB-15 to cast scouts along a riverbank. They would swim to a designated shore or to a designated point to conduct their mission.

RB-15 helocasting is also an effective means of resupplying a company operating along a water obstacle. Over 1,000 pounds of rations, ammunition, and supplies can be placed in each boat.



There are two acceptable methods of river navigation.

Checkpoint and General Route Method. This method is used when the landing site is marked by a well-defined terrain feature and the waterway does not have many branches and tributaries. The navigator uses a strip map, with the route drawn on it, and looks for prominent checkpoints along the way. It is best used during daylight hours and for short distances. Except for those periods when the navigator is right at a checkpoint, this method is not completely accurate. It is, however, the easiest means of river navigation.

Navigator-Observer Method. This is the most accurate means of river navigation and can be used effectively in all light conditions.

The navigator is positioned in the center of the boat and does not paddle. During hours of darkness, he uses his flashlight under a poncho to check his map.

The navigator keeps his map and compass oriented at all times.

The navigator keeps the observer informed of the configuration of the river by announcing bends, sloughs, reaches, and stream junctions as shown on his map.

The observer compares this information with the bends, sloughs, reaches, and stream junctions he actually sees. When these are confirmed the navigator notes the boat's location on his map.

The navigator also keeps the observer informed of the general azimuths of reaches as shown on his map. The observer confirms these with actual compass readings.

The navigator announces only one configuration at a time to the observer and does not announce another until the first is confirmed and noted.

At night, a strip map drawn on clear acetate backed with luminous tape may be used instead of a map. It should be to scale or a schematic. It should show all curves and the azimuth and distance of all reaches. It should also show terrain features, streams, junctions, and sloughs.


The techniques of tactical river movement are very similar to those employed on land. As on land, movement techniques depend primarily on the likelihood of enemy contact and must be based on the concepts of traveling, traveling overwatch, and bounding overwatch.

Distances between elements will vary depending upon observation, range of weapons, and means of communication used. Each boat must maintain visual contact with the boat to its front.

Boats move close to the shoreline, taking advantage of the natural concealment.

When bends in the river deny observation, a unit sends a reconnaissance team ashore to reconnoiter the river beyond the bend. When the reconnaissance team determines that the area is clear, it signals the boats to move forward.

Troops in the boats are assigned specific sectors in which to observe and fire.

One person is appointed in each boat as an air guard. If an enemy aircraft is sighted, the boats immediately move close to shore for concealment. Troops sit quietly in the boats until all is clear. If the aircraft makes a firing pass, the unit beaches the boats and takes the appropriate defensive actions for an air attack.

Actions taken on enemy contact resemble those taken ashore. The elements caught in the enemy's fire return fire, beach the boats, seek cover, and continue to fire. Other elements beach their boats and maneuver ashore to destroy the enemy. When a patrol is inserted by boat, the landing site must be secured before all elements of the patrol disembark. A suggested technique is to have the lead boat unload its personnel at the landing site while the other boats cover them from a distance. After the site is secured, the other boats are landed on signal. After the boats have landed, the crews either hide the boats or have them removed from the area. In either case, the crews remove any signs of activity on the landing site.


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