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Outdoor Water Safety

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
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Swimming in an open body of water (like a pond, lake, river, or ocean) is different from swimming in a pool. Even kids who are good swimmers need to take care. But injuries and even drownings can happen.

Here are some tips based on the type of water:

Swimming at Lakes, Rivers, and Ponds

  • Have an adult water watcher when kids are near or in the water.
  • Teach kids to never swim alone.
  • Talk to teens about why they shouldn't use drugs or alcohol while swimming at lakes, rivers, and ponds.
  • Try to find an area with lifeguards on duty. But lifeguards are just one layer of protection against drowning.
  • Teach kids to stay away from weeds and grass in the water. They could entangle a leg or arm.
  • Make sure kids follow any safety signs, such as not swimming where there could be dangerous wildlife (alligators, snakehead fish, snapping turtles, venomous snakes, etc.).
  • Kids should wear foot protection such as aqua socks or water shoes to protect them from jagged rocks, broken glass, and other sharp objects.
  • In bad weather, especially lightning, everyone should get out of the water right away.
  • If you live or stay near a lake, river, or pond and have kids who can’t swim or are new swimmers, keep all doors locked (even those that don’t face the water). The children should not play outside alone unless they are in a fenced area with a locked gate. If it is your home, put alarms on the doors that chime when someone goes in or out. It only takes minutes for someone to drown, so always know where your children are.

Swimming at Beaches

  • Assign an adult water watcher when kids are near or in the water.
  • Teach kids to never swim alone.
  • Talk to teens about why they shouldn't use drugs or alcohol while swimming in the ocean.
  • Try to find a beach that has lifeguards on duty. But lifeguards are just one layer of protection against drowning.
  • Follow the recommendations on posted signs about weather, rip currents, jellyfish warnings, surfing restrictions, and other hazards. Don't let kids to swim if there are large waves.
  • Teach kids to face the water so they can see if a big wave is coming.
  • Teach kids that if they're being pulled out from shore by a rip current or undertow, they should yell for help and then swim parallel to the shore (alongside the shore) until they don’t feel like they're being pulled out anymore. Then they can swim into shore.
  • Don’t let your kids swim close to piers or other water structures. Sudden water movements may push swimmers into them.
  • In bad weather, especially lightning, swimmers should get out of the water right away.

Boating and Jet Ski Safety

  • Take a safe boating course. States offer courses and online courses also are available.
  • Make sure the driver of the boat or jet ski is experienced and not using alcohol or drugs.
  • Follow all posted safety signs, such as no wake zones.
  • Children and adults should wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets while on a boat or jet ski, even if they can swim. Life jackets can protect someone from drowning if they are suddenly thrown into the water. Water wings and other “floaties” do not protect children from drowning.
  • If the boat is pulling a water skier or tuber, a person other than the driver should watch to make sure that the skier or tuber is safe.
  • Follow federal, local, and state rules about how old someone must be to drive a boat or jet ski; and any licensing, course, or training that's required.
  • Check the weather before going out onto the water. If the weather turns bad (especially if there is lightning), bring the boat or jet ski back in.
  • Jet skis riders should wear eye protection.
Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: July 2022