With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing, many of us are turning to state parks, lakes, and of course, the ocean to return to the water. With that in mind, let’s do a quick refresher on safe swimming in natural bodies of water.
Safe Swimming in Natural Bodies of Water
First and foremost, understand the risks.
- Check the weather before leaving. Sudden weather changes can make the natural water setting more dangerous. (True story: I once accidentally went camping on the beach during a hurricane. That was a high-speed pack out. Seriously, check the weather before you go.) Even in known or designated swim areas, sudden inclement weather can change water levels and current and create new hazards. Once at your destination, continue to monitor the weather situation.
- Check out whether bacterial levels in the water are monitored at your local beach and whether the beach is open for swimming (information available from EPA and is only for U.S. coastal/marine and Great Lakes beaches). Local Beach Information
- Pay attention to posted warnings, particularly current and tide conditions. More than 100 people die annually due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches. These strong currents can form on any shoreline where waves break and can carry a person away from the shore, so anyone near a beach must be careful.
- Watch out for the “dangerous too’s”: too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun and too much strenuous activity.
- Enter open water carefully. It is difficult to estimate water depth and to see hidden objects underwater in the natural environment. Head, neck, and back injuries can occur from hitting bottom or striking an object in the water.
- And finally, never, ever swim alone.
Remember, too, that even in natural water environments, the rules for healthy swimming established by the CDC remain mostly the same.
Check for a lifeguard.
- If on duty, a lifeguard should be focused on the swimmers and not distracted.
- If no lifeguard is on duty, a “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign should be posted.
- If no lifeguard on duty, check to see where safety equipment, such as a rescue ring or pole, is available.
- Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
- Stay out of the water if you have an open wound (for example, from surgery or a piercing) not covered with a waterproof bandage.
- Protect against sunburn by using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use well-fitting Coast Guard-approved life jackets for flotation assistance rather than foam or air-filled toys.
- Don’t pee or poop in the water.
- Don’t swallow the water.
- Keep an eye on children at all times; kids can drown in seconds and silence.
Take frequent breaks.
- Take kids on bathroom breaks.
- Reapply sunscreen.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Dry ears thoroughly after swimming
Natural water swimming can do wonders for both mental and physical health, but as always, know before you go!