There are a number of potential dangers while swimming outdoors. See/Swim is a guide for possible areas to explore, but we cannot vouch for the safety of any location, and conditions change daily. Here are some basic tips for staying safe in the water:
-IF YOU CAN’T SWIM, DON’T Using an inflatable tube or float isn’t enough to keep you safe if you are unable to swim to shore. Many local parks departments and YMCAs offer free or low-cost swimming classes for children and adults.
-NEVER SWIM ALONE OR IMPAIRED
-MINORS SHOULD ALWAYS BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT
-ALWAYS ASK A LOCAL Conditions are changeable- rising currents, bacteria, and pollution are just a few examples of hazards that can arise in areas that are normally safe. If you are swimming at a new location it is particularly important to find out exactly what part of the water it is safe to swim. Some waters might be safe except for a small area- these are the things locals can tell you.
-DON’T JUMP For a lot of people jumping from rocks, cliffs, bridges, and railroad trestles is the main attraction. This is also the best way to get hurt. People die from jumping every year, and it is one of the fastest ways to close down a swimming place. Usually the deaths are due to impacts and currents, but they can also be caused by cold water. This is one of the few times that we would say that asking a local doesn’t matter. Local kids die from jumping too.
-DON’T JUMP One more time. Even if you have jumped somewhere before, if you submerge yourself in water that is too cold for your body to handle, you can cramp or seize up and drown. Currents and temperatures change all the time, and you can suddenly run into trouble in a place that you know very well.
-AVOID ALL DAMS Even dams that appear to be only a few feet high can be extremely dangerous. This website has more information about the dangers of low head dams http://www.allenandallen.com/blog/low-head-dams-and-drowning.html
-DOGS This is listed as a hazard, as it can be a lethal mistake for your dog. A location that allows dogs in the park or in the camping area around the beach will be listed as dog friendly, but please bring your dog only if you have someone to watch them. Dogs are rarely allowed on the actual beach, so please never leave your dog in the car unattended, even if the windows are cracked. If you are bringing a dog with you proof of a rabies vaccine is often REQUIRED, and the tag that they wear on their collar isn’t enough-you have to bring a printed out vet record, showing the dates of the vaccine, and that it is still current. Please see below for Blue Green Algae info, and don’t let your dog visit water that is infected as it could kill them.
-FLASH FLOODS AND TORNADOS Extreme weather can arise quickly, and you should check the weather before heading out. Even a light rain can cause a trail to wash out; so be careful, and use your judgement.
-TICKS Lyme disease is transferred through the bite of a tick, and can be debilitating if left untreated. Some areas of the U.S. are infested with ticks, and you should always wear repellant and check yourself regularly. Before heading out we spray our clothes with Sawyer’s tick repellant, which seems to work well.
-BLUE GREEN ALGAE (cyanobacteria) Many states have a problem with Blue Green Algae, which has led to the closure of swimming areas. The algae is toxic to both people and animals, so please respect these closures, and never swim in a place with visible algae. Dogs and cats exposed to the algae can die, so ensure they don’t drink or swim at an infected site. More info http://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/algal-poisoning/overview-of-algal-poisoning
-NAEGLERIA FOWLERI This is a rare, but often fatal infection associated with swimming in freshwater. Water containing the amoeba enters through the nose, and using nose clips is a sensible precaution. More information is available on the CDC’s website http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/general.html–
-POISONOUS SNAKES, BEARS, COUGARS, SCORPIONS, ETC. We can’t cover every hazard you might encounter, and instead strongly encourage you to research the specific area you are traveling in, and try to prepare yourself for anything you might run into. This is one instance where asking a local might not help, as they could consider sensible precautions as just “common sense.”