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Tips for Swimming Safely in the Outdoors

Head to natural bodies of water this summer with these water-safe practices in mind.

By: Jessica Cho + Save to a List

I’m often happier in the water than I am on land. My earliest memories of family vacations all include me splashing around in rolling ocean waves and doing handstands in hotel pools. Whether it be racing, diving, surfing, boating, jumping over waves, or merely floating... I’m there.

As a lifeguard, swim coach, and competitive swimmer through high school and college, I've gained many years of experience when it comes to water safety. Swimming, though fun, can be challenging for novice swimmers and advanced water recreators alike. Whether you're cooling off in a pool, splashing in the ocean, or exploring a natural swimming hole, it can be life-saving to think ahead, understand the risks, and have enough knowledge to get yourself (or a loved one) out of a scary situation. 

Below are actionable water safety tips to keep in mind while on your next swimming adventure.

Photo: Michael Wigle

Water and Swim Safety Tips

  • Always tell someone where you are heading off to for the day. It’s good to keep someone in the loop so they can check in on you if needed.
  • Bring a buddy! It makes the adventure more fun and ensures you can look after one another.
  • Use appropriate water safety gear (i.e. life vests, flotations tubes, water shoes). It is always a good thing to be prepared, especially when dealing with the unpredictable nature of different bodies of water.
  • Don’t try to fight currents. Even if you’re Michael Phelps, the currents will always win and tire you out. Stay calm and either ride it out until the current takes you to a calmer spot or swim perpendicularly to rather than against the current.
  • Check the tides and the weather! Along the lines of the last bullet, the water is a powerful force. Don’t put yourself in a position to get into strong, dangerous waters like during a storm. Think like a surfer and get online or download an app on your phone to check things like currents, tides, and wave height.
  • Look before you jump. You might not be aware of rocks or branches beneath the surface, especially in water that isn’t totally clear. Enter feet first to prevent injuries.
  • Know the water depth. Diving into shallow waters is highly dangerous.
  • Breathe calmly. While in the water, it’s important to stay alert, yet relaxed. It’s harder to swim and move your body when feeling tense.
  • Know yourself! If you know you aren’t a strong swimmer, take extra precaution and don’t get into rough waters.
  • Practice makes perfect. If you want to become a stronger swimmer and build your strength and endurance, work at it! Work on your strength (even while at home), do laps at a pool, and practice breath control.
  • Wear sunscreen. Water can both reflect and refract light. And while in the water, the droplets on your skin create even more surface area for light to be reflected back onto your skin. Prevent burns and skin damage by lathering on water-resistant SPF!

Cover Photo: Erik Holmes

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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