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Primary Children's Hospital

Primary Children's Hospital
100 North Mario Capecchi Drive
Salt Lake City, Utah 84113-1100
(801) 662-1000
www.primarychildrens.org


Outdoor Water Safety

Swimming is a lot of fun, but drowning is a real danger. Even kids who know how to swim can drown, so let's find out how to stay safe in the water while you enjoy the great outdoors.

Why Is It Important to Be Safe in the Water?

Fish are able to live and breathe in water, but people need air to breathe. People drown when too much water gets into their lungs. When that happens, the lungs can't put oxygen in the blood. Then, too little oxygen gets to the brain and the rest of the body.

Drowning can happen so fast — sometimes in less than 2 minutes after a person's head goes under the water. That leaves very little time for someone to help.

Lakes and Ponds

Lots of kids swim in streams, lakes, or ponds. Take extra care when swimming in these beautiful places. You can't always see the bottom of the lake or pond, so you don't always know the depth of the water. This is another reason to always swim with an adult.

Although the fish swimming around won't hurt you, some ponds and lakes may hide jagged rocks, broken bottles, or trash. Wear something to protect your feet. Also, watch out for weeds and grass, which can trap even a good swimmer. If you panic and try to yank yourself free, you may get even more tangled. Instead, shake and pull your arms and legs slowly to work yourself loose and call for an adult's help.

If you're going out on a boat, always wear a life jacket. (Again, the life jacket should be Coast Guard-approved.) Even if you are a good swimmer, something could cause the boat to tip over and you could be trapped underneath.

Beaches

It's hard to resist a day on the beach, but you'll need to know some safety rules for swimming in the ocean. Swimming in the ocean is trickier than the pool because of waves and currents, which can change. When you first get to the beach, check with the lifeguard to find out how strong the waves are. Some places fly flags or write notes on a chalkboard to give swimmers an idea of what conditions are like.

Waves can knock you down or push you to the ocean floor. Stay close to an adult or get out of the water when the waves get rough. People also get into trouble when they start to panic or become too tired to swim. It's important to know your limits, so if you start feeling tired, get out of the water and rest for a while.

In some places, swimmers may run into strong undertows or ocean currents. Rip currents (also called riptides) are so strong that they can carry swimmers away from shore before they know what's happening. If you are caught in a current, swim parallel to the shore (alongside the shore) rather than toward the shore until the water stops pulling you, then swim diagonally back to shore. If you can't get back to the beach, tread water and wave for a lifeguard's help. In this situation, it's really important to stay calm and not panic.

You probably won't see any sharks (although a friendly dolphin may splash by) where you are swimming. But you might run into some jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-wars. These umbrella-shaped, nearly clear animals can grow to be as large as several feet in diameter! They are often found floating near the shore. Getting stung is no fun — it can hurt and blister your skin. If you get stung, tell an adult as soon as possible.

Other rules to follow:

  • Never swim alone!
  • Always swim where a lifeguard can see you and in areas that are marked for swimmers to use.
  • Wear protective footwear if surfaces are rough or rocky.
  • Don't swim out too far.
  • Never pretend to be drowning. The lifeguard may take you seriously.
  • Don't swim close to piers — those big, wooden structures that jut out into the water. If the water moves suddenly, you could hit a piling or a rock.
  • Store drinks in plastic containers at the beach — broken glass bottles and bare feet don't mix.
  • Face the waves, instead of turning your back on them. Then you'll know what's coming.

Water Parks

Kids love water parks — and why shouldn't they? Wave pools, giant slides, and squirting fountains are a lot of fun. To stay safe, find out what each attraction is like and how deep the water is. Some wave pools can get rough, so it's a good idea to have an adult nearby.

Here are other water park safety tips:

  • Wear a life jacket if you don't know how to swim or if you're not a strong swimmer.
  • Read all of the signs before going on a ride. Make sure you are tall enough, old enough, and don't have any of the medical conditions that are listed. If you have questions, check with a parent or ask the lifeguard.
  • Always make sure there's a lifeguard at each ride and listen to his or her instructions. Wait until the rider ahead of you has passed a safe point for you to go down the slide.
  • Always go down the water slide face up and feet first. This is the safe and correct way to ride.
  • When you go from ride to ride, don't run — it's slippery! Also, remember that each ride is different. Read each sign and note how deep the water is in the pool.

Other Important Tips

Here are some other good water safety tips:

  • Learn to swim. Ask your parents to contact your local American Red Cross or community center for information on boating or water safety courses.
  • Always put on plenty of sunscreen before you go outside. It's also a good idea to wear sunglasses and a hat to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids when you're outside swimming and playing so you don't become dehydrated.
  • Stop swimming or boating as soon as you see or hear a storm. Remember, lightning is electricity — electricity and water are a dangerous combination.
  • Don't swim in the dark.
  • Go into the water slowly to make sure the temperature feels comfortable and it's not too cold. If you're shivering or start to feel your muscles cramping up, it may be because the water is too cold. This is not safe, so get out of the water immediately.
  • Germs might lurk in the water that can make a person sick with diarrhea or other illnesses. So make sure not to swallow the water. And to help keep the water as clean as possible: shower with soap before going swimming, wash your hands after using the bathroom, and don't swim if you're sick.
Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2021