Safety at Fords
Although Fords were originally built as a means to get across a watercourse such as a river, stream or brook, most of them came about in the days of horse and carts, where horses didn't mind getting wet and the carts had large enough wheels that the passengers did not get wet. Fords however come in different shapes and sizes, some have a little trickle of a water to some which many would say were a full blown river, some are also crossing a points at weirs where the water is moving much faster and of course in flooded conditions they are all dangerous. At the end of the day a ford is moving water and therefore can be a dangerous environment.
In the majority of cases you do not need to go into the ford to photograph it. In fact you don't even need to drive through it in your vehicle as there are always ways of turning around or parking up and getting to the ford on foot. So as long as you have thought out how you are going to approach the subject before setting off and set out your own ground rules for how you are going to treat the situation before you get there, your experience should be an enjoyable and safe one. However there is always that lapse in concentration or an overwhelming need to do something different when you get there so here we are going to point out some issues that you should be aware of, consider and take into account when at fords.
Fords in country areas are generally still used by the local community, farmers and visiting delivery vehicles. So the base of the ford may not be in totally good order and may have hidden pot holes, or other obstacles in the way under water. If possible recce the ford before you go in it either from the side or if there is a bridge which takes you across it take a look from there. If in doubt do not go into it.
There are many fords which are shallow enough for modern cars to go through them. Most modern cars have their electrics pretty well water proofed, but not to the extent of taking them for a swim. Cars with diesel engines are better than petrol because their ignition doesn't cut out when the electrics get wet. However if your car is fitted with catalytic converter (petrol engines only) then fords should not be attempted, these run at a hotter temperature than normal and may crack if submerged in water or if they are cooled down too quickly, which is what the water in the ford will do. Air intakes are a problem in that they suck in hard and turbo engines suck air in even harder, so you need to know where the air intake is on your car. Most modern cars have their air intake low down at the front of the engine for some it is inside the front wheel arch, all engines are affected but turbo-charged and diesel engines are the most vulnerable, so it would be foolhardy to attempt to go through any ford which is more than a splash. If you must go through a ford, just for fun, then 4x4 and similar cars are the most suitable, although some of these, like the BMW X-5 is not suitable because the air intakes can suck in water. Car manufacturers have been known to refuse warranty claims because the vehicle is not supposed to be driven through fords.
Whichever car you drive if you do decide to drive through then make sure it is at a depth that is below the lowest part of your car, you don't want to get wet feet, and make sure it is not deeper in the middle than when you first approach it. Drive through slowly by steadily. Stay in your lowest forward gear, keep the engine rev's pretty high and try to make sure that the exhaust pressure is kept high enough to stop water flowing back up the tailpipe - water in the engine is not good. Never reverse out of a ford especially if the tailpipe is already or likely to go underwater.
Be considerate when driving through water at speeds above a slow crawl not only potentially damages your car but can also result in water being thrown onto pavements, soaking pedestrians and cyclists. Drive slowly to avoid creating a bow wave, and allow on-coming traffic to pass first. When you exit the ford always test your brakes as soon as you can, you don't want to get further down the road after picking up speed and finding you have a problem.
When expecting to drive a tidal road check the tide tables first. Do this before leaving home if you can, when you get to the road unless it has been vandalised you may find a sign with the local high tide times for that particular road when you get there. Don't take a chance on beating the tide, you won't it always comes in faster than you think.
Salt water is bad for cars, and it is recommended that you never go through any sea water or a tidal road with just small amounts on it, as you can never completely remove the salt afterwards, it's a bit like sand and gets in all the little places too hard to reach. Some tidal roads are made of a normal road surface and during low tide will not have water on the surface and therefore a okay to go on, however at high tide they will not be seen as they will be totally submerged under water. These roads during low tide are okay, but as with any ford or wet road do not attempt it unless you are totally happy.
Of course just because you're going to photograph it doesn't mean you're going to go through it, but there are still some safety guidelines to consider. Fords are still roads, even if not heavily used so there will still be traffic going through them. Make sure where you stand to take the picture it is safe to do so and you do not cause an obstruction. If you can have somebody else with you and extra pair of eyes and ears while you are taking the pictures would be helpful and sensible.
If you are taking from a bridge which also runs over the water and a car goes through be aware they may think a large splash will make your photo, but it could also get on your camera. Today's digital cameras are full of electrics and just like a car are also sensitive to water, so keep an eye out for what is going on around you. If you want others to play in the water make sure it is safe, that the base of the ford is not slippery, and it's not too deep and that they are aware of what to do if a vehicle should approach to go through it. It might look safe to stand under the bridge, but the bow wave of water created by a large vehicle is strong even in a small amount of water and could still make them loose their footing, and pull them under the vehicle as it passes.
Be sensible even small amounts of water can be a danger and common sense should not escape you just because you want to get that perfect shot.
Fords are an attractive country feature that many photographers potentially overlook, and as long as you treat them with care they will give you a perfect subject to photograph.
Fords Explained, incl. Irish Bridge and Wet Roads, tidal Roads etc