Keep Your Family Safe At Swimming Holes

An impromptu stop at a swimming hole can be a great way to relax on a road trip. But natural bodies of water deserve respect, and the consequences are steep for those who disregard the warnings.

“Swimming in open water--lakes, rivers, ocean--is harder than swimming in a pool,” said Liz Coleman with the Washington State Department of Health’s Environmental Program. “People tire faster and get into trouble more quickly. A person can go underwater in a murky lake and be swept away in currents.”

Children are especially vulnerable in the water. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children younger than 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent statistics. One out of every five drowning deaths involves someone 14 or younger, the CDC reports.

Knowing the water and knowing your limits are two of the biggest keys to staying safe out there, Coleman said.

“Never dive or jump into unfamiliar water,” she said. “Learning how to float and tread water are vitally important to staying safe in the water.”

Still waters not only run deep, they can deceive.

“Water that is warm on the surface may be much colder below,” Coleman said.

Swimmers must always respect the current, even in a slow moving river.

“Rivers may not be moving as fast, but log jams can trap swimmers and large rocks and logs could tip over rafts, canoes, and kayaks.”

The Washington State Department of Health offers the following advisories for swimming in open water.

Advice for Adults

  • Avoid swimming where two rivers come together – many good swimmers get into trouble or drown in currents that didn't seem to be moving fast. Undertow is powerful and common in the confluence.
  • Alcohol and water don’t mix. Alcohol influences balance coordination and judgment. It is involved in up to half of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation.
  • Swim in a life-guarded area whenever possible, especially if you are not a strong swimmer. Choose safer swimming options with lifeguards present, such as a beach, lake or pool.

When Swimming with Children

  • Watch children closely when they are on or near any type of water; stay close enough to reach them immediately.
  • Never use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision.
  • Never take your eyes off children in the water. Parents may think they'll hear splashing and screaming when a child is in trouble, but when a child drowns, it usually happens quickly and silently.
  • Parents must tell their children about the dangers of open water at rivers, lakes and beaches.
  • Know where your child is, who they are with and when they are expected home.