Getting out to any one of our county’s many bodies of water is perhaps one of the best ways to spend a hot summer day. Nothing beats a hot day spent by the ocean, lake, river or creek. And, as long as it isn’t too crowded, getting out with your friends by the water is one of most COVID-safe ways to socialize, since you’re outdoors.
But natural bodies of water carry with them extra dangers you won’t find at a pool. The risk of drowning is much higher in open water. Thankfully, drowning is highly preventable. There’s just a few things you need to know to keep swimming, boating, tubing, rafting, diving, and all the other aquatic adventures you love safe and enjoyable.
Lakes, rivers and oceans have different features, hazards and temperatures to contend with. Rivers can be especially dangerous. Log jams and other debris can trap swimmers underneath, and rocks can upend boats and kayaks. Although rivers have unique threats that demand consideration, lakes, streams and open ocean have their own hazards, too. It’s safest to wear a life jacket at all times when you’re out on open water.
Any kind of water can make you sick if swallowed, especially if there are toxins or algae in the water when you go. Stay up to date on beach advisories so you don’t get sick.
Swimming in open water is harder than swimming in a pool. You’ll tire faster and get into trouble more quickly. Swim in an area with a lifeguard, especially if you aren’t a strong swimmer. Avoid strong currents. Stay sober - never mix alcohol or drugs with swimming or boating.
Water that’s warm at the surface may be frigid beneath. Check how cold the water really is before you dive in, and know the signs of cold water shock. You can check water temperatures online at USGS, or by wading in slowly to see for yourself how cold it is before jumping right in.
Life jackets are one of the best methods available to prevent drowning while swimming or boating on open water. Just make sure you get a life jacket that’s approved by the Coast Guard, and make sure it fits you properly. If you’re boating, you’re required to have one life jacket on board for every person who’s boating with you.
When swimming with your children, monitor them closely when they’re near water; they can go under water quickly and quietly. If your children are swimming without you, make sure you know where they’ll be and communicate clearly when they’re expected to be home. Make sure they know how to behave on the water. You are a powerful role model - your kids will be more likely to do whatever they’ve seen you doing.
DOH has more information about how to stay safe in open water.