Reading the Vistula – reading water

Autor: dr Joanna Angiel    

The Vistula River is like a book, which you have to know how ‘to read’. All those who are associated with sailing on the river, those who do water sports, and also ‘water’ tourists know that. The surface of the Vistula, particularly during low tide, tells us what is the relative depth of the river i.e. where it is deeper and where it is more shallow, what lies on its riverbed – and where there are sandbanks and where tree trunks and boulders are hidden under water. A sharp observer will notice where to find the strongest current and where to find the so-called backwater where water travels against the current, up stream and he will know what causes it. Ripples on the water may mean wind activity, as well as the presence of shallow areas.

The riverbed constantly changes, in any one day in a given place the shoal can ‘travel’ further down the river. That is one of the reasons why it is dangerous to swim in the Vistula, as we think we know what the riverbed looks like in a particular place, and yet it is merely superficial knowledge. ‘Reading the Vistula’ involves recognising the morphology of its riverbed on the basis of that which is happening on the water’s surface. The mirror of the water will “tell us” whether there is a shoal or sandbank in front of us, which needs to be avoided, or rapids in which to swim into.

In some places one should quickly read the Vistula. If there is an obstacle underneath us, whether be it a canoe, yacht, boat or vessel, it is already too late… It is important to carefully “read the water” near bridges, groynes, seawalls, etc.

The project ‘Protecting the habitats of priority bird species of the Vistula Valley under conditions of intensive pressure of the Warsaw agglomeration’ ( has received a grant from the Financial Instrument for the Environment (LIFE+) and from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.