Anas El-Rafai, 15, died on 17 August trying to help his brother in the River Tees at Darlington.
The pair were among a group of friends who had gone to swim at a popular beauty spot known as Broken Scar.
Assistant coroner James Thompson, sitting at Crook Coroner’s Court, ruled Anas had accidentally drowned.
The group had visited the river to take photographs and had apparently gone into the water to cool down, the hearing was told.
Anas was swept away after managing to push his 13-year-old sibling, Jamal, to safety.
Mr Thompson said the tragedy “reinforced the dangers of playing in rivers and in open water”.
He said “People should take extreme care and need to understand the power of nature.”
The inquest was told recent heavy rain had left river levels high and that the undercurrent was strong and the water cold and fast-flowing.
Mr Thomson said Anas had acted “selflessly” and his actions should be commended.
He added: “Anas had a few seconds to think and he simply acted – there was nothing more his friends or the emergency services could do.”
Anas’s family fled the civil war in Syria in 2011, initially going to Lebanon, then moving to the UK in 2018.
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