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Mother Nature's swimming hazards

This summer, make sure your family knows how swimming differs in natural waters.

Little girl splashing in a lake

Swimming in an ocean, lake, pond or river is different from swimming in a pool. You may have to battle strong currents, big waves, debris, bacteria and bad weather. Protect yourself from these and other swimming hazards with these tips.

Never Swim Alone

Always bring a friend when you plan to swim in open waters. Select a swimming spot with a lifeguard on duty, and stay within their sight. If there's no lifeguard on duty, pack your own flotation device for emergencies.

Survey the Water

Assess the water before you jump in. Look for warning signs posted near the water's edge. Also look for red flags — such as waves, debris, and excessive algae or plant growth — that could hint at hazardous swimming conditions.

Prevent Waterborne Illness

Natural bodies of water aren't chemically treated like pools, so there's a higher risk of spreading bacteria. Don't drink the water, and plug your nose when your head is submerged. Never swim while sick or with an open cut, and always shower after swimming.

Play It Safe

Avoid accidents and injury by taking common-sense precautions. You should always:

  • Stay close to land and swim within designated swimming areas.
  • Walk into unknown water — never dive. Rocks and other hazards could be just beneath the surface.
  • Insist on wearing a life jacket if you or someone with you is a weak swimmer.
  • Check the weather  Never swim when lightning is in the forecast.
  • Take a break if you begin to feel cold, tired or hungry.

Know How to Respond

Be prepared to react quickly to these emergency situations:

  • Unconscious swimmer — If you can safely get the victim to land, do so quickly. Begin CPR and call 911.
  • Hypothermia — Prevent further heat loss. Warm the victim up slowly and seek medical attention right away.
  • Rip current — Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the riptide, then swim back to shore. If you get tired, float on your back and kick your feet.

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