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Outdoor Water Safety

| Chaizong Lor

Outdoor Water Safety

Enjoying time outside includes being water safe. Know your own limits, as even confident and strong swimmers can get into trouble. Be sure to have on hand life jackets or flotation devices. When in a river, learn basic skills to be able to read currents in the water. Taking proper safety precautions will ensure you enjoy recreational activities in, on, or around water safely.

Know Before You Go

Before heading out on the water, it is important to be prepared.  Always check the weather and wind conditions before heading out, as they can change rapidly and cause dangerous situations.  Check the weather forecast and water conditions before you go. Cold water can be dangerous, even on warm days.

  • Learn to swim and know your swimming limits.
  • Familiarize yourself with the area first before entering the water.
  • Watch for underwater obstacles (stumps, logs, etc.).
  • Never swim, wade, or access any water feature alone.
  • Always wear a personal flotation device.
  • Never drink alcohol and swim.

Rivers, streams

Changing seasons contribute to rapid changes in rivers and streams. In summer, rivers and streams often swell from runoff caused by snowmelt. That also could mean powerful currents that can easily sweep you off your feet. 

  • Avoid rock hopping. Stream polished rocks along the water's edge may be slippery when wet or dry.
  • If you choose to cross a stream by going through it, study the area first. Avoid deep and/or swift water.
  • When crossing on a natural bridge of rocks or logs, consider where you will land if you fall. Never cross above rapids or falls.
  • If you are crossing a stream, unbuckle your pack's waist strap so you can shed it if you fall to prevent being pulled under by its weight. Consider putting your back in a waterproof back, which becomes a floating device to help your head stay above water.
  • Do not tie yourself into safety ropes — they can drown you.
  • If you fall into fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under. Most drownings result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge, between boulders or snagged in tree limbs or other debris. Lay on your back with your feet pointing downstream and toes pointing up toward the surface. Always look downstream and be prepared to fend off rocks with your feet.

Swim in safe locations

  • Only swim in areas specifically designated for swimming.
  • Learn how to identify hazards, like riptides when swimming in lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds.
  • Avoid swimming in an area with strong moving currents, underwater debris, and water temperatures that could be dangerous.
  • Swim in locations with lifeguards when possible. A lifeguard is there to enforce rules, scan the area, provide rescue intervention, and should not replace adult supervision.
  • Do not dive or jump into water that is not at least 12 feet deep. Enter the water feet-first and never dive head-first into a river, lake, or pond. You can severely injure your head and neck, and potentially drown.
  • Do not swim during a thunderstorm or when there is lightning. During lightning storms, seek shelter and stay away from metal objects, open areas, and large trees.


  • Be prepared. Check the weather and tides, choose your spot, go with a buddy, have the right equipment.
  • If in doubt, don’t go out. No matter how much preparation you do, or how experienced you are, if a swim doesn’t feel right there is no shame in getting out of the water right away, or not entering.
  • Make sure you acclimatize to avoid cold water shock.
  • Be seen. Wear a brightly colored swim hat and take a tow float.
  • Stay within your depths.
  • Float to live.
  • Call 911 in an emergency.