Swimming in Lakes, Ponds & Rivers

Lakes, ponds and rivers are inviting places to swim, especially for young people. Dangers of these swimming areas can include a number of unknowns.


Location of submerged objects

Clarity of the water

Bottom types


Distance Across & Currents

Depth - Water depth can cause two problems:

1. Water too shallow can cause injury to a person who dives head first into the water by them striking the bottom.

2. Water too deep can cause a person to panic if they dive in and don’t touch bottom. Holes can cause this problem quickly. A person can be walking along and suddenly step into a hole and panic into a tragic situation. If the person could arm stroke one or two strokes, he would be back on stable ground.

Submerged objects

Location of submerged objects and clarity of water provides an obvious danger to swimmers. The danger is often is over looked or ignored by a swimmer anxious to get wet.

Bottom conditions are important to know to determine if you are in danger of cutting your feet, having your feet stick to the bottom (muddy) or there is foliage which could entangle you underwater.


COLD - If the temperature is too cold the swimmer will tire more quickly which can become a hazard if he is swimming across deep water. The swimmer is more likely to have a muscle cramp while swimming in cold water. The cramp could cause a drowning situation to occur. Hypothermia is also a potential hazard from swimming in cold water.

WARM - Warm stagnant water is a hazard as it is a potential carrier of bacteria and disease and can also cause fatigue.

Distance across - This factor is one of misperception.

Distances across lakes and large rivers are very misleading. Due to the fact that there no distance markers between the shore and the other side, it very difficult to determine if a swimmers skill and strength will be enough to successfully get him across.

Currents - This factor is also one of misperception.

Currents not only make it more difficult to swim across the river, it will also carry the swimmer downstream into more unknown hazards - rocks, submerged limbs, quickly changing depths, holes, temperatures, twists and turns.

Finding a safe swimming area.

To have a safe swimming experience, pick a safe place to swim.

  • A community swimming pool is your safest choice - the bottom is solid, water is clear and there are lifeguards.

  • A community or private swimming area is a safe choice for swimming.The safe swimming area is marked and there are life guards.

  • A safe swimming area which does not provide marked swimming areas and lifeguards will require some preparation on your part to make it safe.

Making a swimming area safer at non lifeguard covered areas.

  • Always go with one of more friends so there are people present to help with an emergency if one occurs.

  • Take safety equipment with you.Purchase a ring buoy (lifesaver) or 50 foot rope with a gallon milk jug attached to the end.Fill the jug 1/4 full with water to give it enough weight to carry the rope to the struggling swimmer.

  • Before swimming, enter the lake by walking into the water and walking around an area in which you want to swim to check the depth and bottom surface of the water.When you do this walk check, wear shoes/slippers designed to wade in the water.Once you have established this safe area, stay in that area unless you do a second walk or swim around in the new area.

  • Test the water temperature.If it is too hot or too cold, keep your swimming activity close to the shore at depths where you can easily stand up.

  • NEVER swim across a lake or wide river by yourself, even if you have swam across the same stretch of water many times. If you swim across a lake in August, you are probably in good shape from swimming all summer.When you attempt to swim that same body of water the next May, your strength is less because of the long winter break, plus the water is probably colder.

  • Choose a designated lifeguard.That person would be especially conscious about safe behavior and swimming areas and actively remind participants about safety.

  • DO NOT jump or dive into water until you have definitely determined that that water is deep enough for safe entering and that the water is free of obstructions.For diving, the water should be at least 9 feet deep.

  • Do not allow weak or non swimmers to use flotation devices - “floaties”, inner tubes, float toys ... out of pre-set swim areas.

  • If you begin to move down a river current, recover by swimming across the stream and not up stream. If the current is very strong, try to float on your back with your feet pointed downstream to help prevent hitting your head on rocks.

  • NEVER swim near a dam. Currents can pull you down and back to the dam over and over again creating a hydraulic effect or sometimes called a "drowning machine".