Water Safety

These General Water Safety Tips will help you stay safe in, on, and around the water!
Check out our additional safety tips below for specialized aquatic activities.

General Water Safety Tips

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim. Always swim with a buddy; never swim alone. The American Red
    Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll
    in a swim course, contact your local Red Cross
    chapter
    .
  • Swim in supervised areas only.
  • Obey all rules and posted signs.
  • Watch out for the “dangerous too’s”–too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too
    much sun, too much strenuous activity.
  • Don’t mix alcohol and swimming. Alcohol impairs your judgement, balance, and
    coordination, affects your swimming and diving skills, and reduces your body’s
    ability to stay warm.
  • Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the
    first indication of bad weather.
  • Know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to emergencies.

Beach Safety

  • Protect your skin: Sunlight contains two kinds of UV rays — UVA increases the
    risk of skin cancer, skin aging, and other skin diseases. UVB causes sunburn
    and can lead to skin cancer. Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive
    between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and wear a sunscreen with a sun protection
    factor containing a high rating such as 15.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often even if you do not feel thirsty. Your
    body needs water to keep cool. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.
    They can make you feel good briefly but make the heat’s effects on your body
    worse. This is especially true with beer, which dehydrates the body.
  • Watch for signs of heat stroke: Heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim’s
    temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops
    working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death
    may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red, and
    dry skin; changes in consciousness, rapid, weak pulse, and rapid, shallow
    breathing. Call 9-1-1 or your local EMS number. Move the person to a cooler
    place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan
    it. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on each of the victim’s
    wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood
    vessels. Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is
    clear. Keep the person lying down.
  • Wear eye protection: Sunglasses are like sunscreen for your eyes and protect
    against damage that can occur from UV rays. Be sure to wear sunglasses with
    labels that indicate that they absorb at least 90 percent of UV sunlight.
  • Wear foot protection: Many times, people’s feet can get burned from the sand
    or cut from glass in the sand.

Boating

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the
    water is to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any boating
    activity. The American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age
    and swimming ability. To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter.
  • Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance, and
    coordination — over 50 percent of drownings result from boating incidents
    involving alcohol. For the same reasons it is dangerous to operate an automobile
    while under the influence of alcohol, people should not operate a boat while
    drinking alcohol.
  • Look for the label: Use Coast Guard-approved life jackets for yourself and your
    passengers when boating and fishing.
  • Develop a float plan. Anytime you go out in a boat, give a responsible person
    details about where you will be and how long you will be gone. This is important
    because if the boat is delayed because of an emergency, becomes lost, or encounters
    other problems, you want help to be able to reach you.
  • Find a boating course in your area (Red Cross, U.S. Power Squadron, the U.S. Coast
    Guard Auxiliary, US Sailing, etc) — these courses teach about navigation rules,
    emergency procedures and the effects of wind, water conditions, and weather.
  • Watch the weather: Know local weather conditions and prepare for electrical storms.
    Watch local news programs. Stop boating as soon as you see or hear a storm.

Home Pools

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim–this includes adults and children. The American Red Cross has
    swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in a course
    to learn or improve your ability to swim, contact your local
    Red Cross
    chapter
    .
  • Never leave a child unobserved around water. Your eyes must be on the child at all
    times. Adult supervision is recommended.
  • Install a phone by the pool or keep a cordless phone nearby so that you can call
    9-1-1 in an emergency.
  • Learn Red Cross CPR and insist that babysitters, grandparents, and others who care
    for your child know CPR.
  • Post CPR instructions and 9-1-1 or your local emergency number in the pool area.
  • Enclose the pool completely with a self-locking, self-closing fence with vertical
    bars. Openings in the fence should be no more than four inches wide. If the house
    is part of the barrier, the doors leading from the house to the pool should remain
    locked and be protected with an alarm that produces sounds when the door is
    unexpectedly opened.
  • Never leave furniture near the fence that would enable a child to climb over the fence.
  • Always keep basic lifesaving equipment by the pool and know how to use it. Pole, rope,
    and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are recommended.
  • Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use. Toys can attract young children
    into the pool.
  • Pool covers should always be completely removed prior to pool use.
  • To learn more about home pool safety, you can purchase the video It Only Takes a
    Minute from your local Red Cross chapter.
  • If a child is missing, check the pool first. Go to the edge of the pool and scan
    the entire pool, bottom, and surface, as well as the surrounding pool area.

Keeping Children Safe In, On, and Around the Water

  • Maintain constant supervision. Watch children around any water environment (pool,
    stream, lake, tub, toilet, bucket of water), no matter what skills your child has
    acquired and no matter how shallow the water.
  • Don’t rely on substitutes. The use of flotation devices and inflatable toys cannot
    replace parental supervision. Such devices could suddenly shift position, lose air,
    or slip out from underneath, leaving the child in a dangerous situation.
  • Enroll children in a water safety course or Learn to Swim program. Your decision to
    provide your child with an early aquatic experience is a gift that will have infinite
    rewards. These courses encourage safe practices. You can also purchase a Community
    Water Safety manual at your local Red Cross.
  • Parents should take a CPR course. Knowing these skills can be important around the
    water and you will expand your capabilities in providing care for your child. You
    can contact your local Red Cross
    chapter
    to enroll in a CPR for Infants and Child course.

Lakes and Rivers

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is
    to learn to swim–this includes adults and children. The American Red Cross has
    swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in swim course,
    contact your local Red Cross
    chapter
    .
  • Select a supervised area. A trained lifeguard who can help in an emergency is the best
    safety factor. Even good swimmers can have an unexpected medical emergency in the water.
    Never swim alone.
  • Select an area that is clean and well maintained. A clean bathhouse, clean restrooms,
    and a litter-free environment show the management’s concern for your health and safety.
  • Select an area that has good water quality and safe natural conditions. Murky water,
    hidden underwater objects, unexpected drop-offs, and aquatic plant life are hazards.
    Water pollution can cause health problems for swimmers. Strong tides, big waves, and
    currents can turn an event that began as fun into a tragedy.
  • Make sure the water is deep enough before entering headfirst. Too many swimmers are
    seriously injured every year by entering headfirst into water that is too shallow. A
    feetfirst entry is much safer than diving.
  • Be sure rafts and docks are in good condition. A well-run open-water facility maintains
    its rafts and docks in good condition, with no loose boards or exposed nails. Never swim
    under a raft or dock. Always look before jumping off a dock or raft to be sure no one is
    in the way.
  • Avoid drainage ditches and arroyos. Drainage ditches and arroyos for water run-off are
    not good places for swimming or playing in the water. After heavy rains, they can quickly
    change into raging rivers that can easily take a human life. Even the strongest swimmers
    are no match for the power of the water. Fast water and debris in the current make
    ditches and arroyos very dangerous.

Ocean Safety

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to
    learn to swim–this includes adults and children. The American Red Cross has swimming
    courses for people of any age and swimming ability. Contact your local
    Red Cross chapter for information on courses.
  • Stay within the designated swimming area, ideally within the visibility of a lifeguard.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Check the surf conditions before you enter the water. Check to see if a warning flag
    is up or check with a lifeguard for water conditions, beach conditions, or any potential
    hazards.
  • Stay away from piers, pilings, and diving platforms when in the water.
  • Keep a lookout for aquatic life. Water plants and animals may be dangerous. Avoid
    patches of plants. Leave animals alone.
  • Make sure you always have enough energy to swim back to shore.
  • Don’t try to swim against a current if caught in one. Swim gradually out of the current,
    by swimming across it.

Personal Watercraft

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is
    to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport or boating
    activity. The American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and
    swimming ability. To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter.
  • Know your local laws and regulations. Some states have special laws governing the use
    of personal water craft (PWC) which address operations, registration and licensing
    requirements, education, required safety equipment and minimum ages.
  • Operate your PWC with courtesy and common sense. Follow the traffic pattern of the
    waterway. Obey no-wake and speed zones.
  • Use extreme caution around swimmers and surfers. Run your PWC at a slow speed until
    the craft is away from shore, swimming areas, and docks. Avoid passing close to other
    boats and jumping wakes. This behavior is dangerous and often illegal.
  • Coast Guard-approved life jackets should be worn by the operator of the PWC as well
    as any riders.
  • Ride with a buddy. PWCs should always travel in groups of two or three. You never
    know when an emergency might occur.
  • Alcohol and operating a PWC doesn’t mix. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance, and
    coordination. For the same reasons it is dangerous to operate an automobile, people
    should not operate a boat or PWC while drinking alcohol.

Sailboarding and Windsurfing

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Wear a wet suit in cold water to prevent hypothermia.
  • You need good physical strength and swimming ability. The American Red Cross has
    swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in a swim
    course, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
  • Take windsurfing lessons from a qualified instructor.
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are safe.
    Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating or any
    activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains can
    make certain areas dangerous.

Skin and SCUBA Diving

  • Receive instructions/take lessons from qualified divers before participating.
  • Get a medical examination and take a swim test before learning SCUBA diving.
  • Once certified, do not dive in rough or dangerous waters or in environments for
    which youare not trained. Ice, cave, and shipwreck diving require special training.
    One can easily get lost or trapped and run out of air.
  • Never dive by yourself.
  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is
    to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport. The
    American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.
    To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter
    .
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are safe.
    Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating or any
    activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains can
    make certain areas dangerous.

Snorkeling

  • Practice in shallow water.
  • Check the equipment carefully and know how it functions.
  • Learn how to clear water from the snorkel.
  • Learn how to put your mask back on when you tread water.
  • Be careful not to swim or be carried by a current too far from shore or the boat.
  • Never snorkel alone.
  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport. The
    American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.
    To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter
    .
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are safe.
    Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating or any
    activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains can
    make certain areas dangerous.

Surfing

  • Take lessons from an experienced individual.
  • Wear a wet suit when in cold water.
  • Never surf alone.
  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport. The
    American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.
    To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter
    .
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are safe.
    Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating or any
    activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains can
    make certain areas dangerous.

Tubing and Rafting

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Do not overload the raft.
  • Do not go rafting after a heavy rain.
  • When rafting with a tour company, make sure the guides are qualified. Check with
    the localchamber of commerce for listings of accredited tour guides and companies.
  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport. The
    American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.
    To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter
    .
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are safe.
    Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating, or any
    activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains can
    make certain areas dangerous.

Waterparks

  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is to learn to swim–this includes adults and children. The American Red Cross has
    swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in a swim
    course, contact your local Red Cross
    chapter
    .
  • Be sure the area is well supervised by lifeguards before you or others in your group
    enterthe water.
  • Read all posted signs. Follow the rules and directions given by lifeguards. Ask
    questions ifyou are not sure about a correct procedure.
  • When you go from one attraction to another, note that the water depth may be different
    and that the attraction should be used in a different way.
  • Before you start down a water slide, get in the correct position — face up and
    feet first.
  • Some facilities provide life jackets at no charge. If you cannot swim, wear a
    Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Check others in your group as well.

Water Skiing

  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • Be sure the boat and ski equipment are in good shape.
  • Always turn the boat motor completely off when you approach a fallen skier.
  • Watch the water ahead of you at all times.
  • Have an extra person aboard to watch and assist the skier.
  • Run parallel to shore and come in slowly when landing. Sit down if coming in too fast.
  • Use proper hand signals to signal boat operator.
  • Do not ski at night or in restricted areas.
  • Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water
    is tolearn to swim. This includes anyone participating in any water sport. The
    American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.
    To enroll in a swim course, contact your local
    Red Cross chapter
    .
  • Know local weather conditions. Make sure the water and weather conditions are
    safe. Because water conducts electricity, it is wise to stop swimming, boating
    or any activities on the water as soon as you see or hear a storm. Also, heavy rains
    can make certain areas dangerous.