Lake and River Safety for Your Summer Freshwater Adventures

lake and river safety

In these hot summer months, many Virginians choose to cool down with vacations and day trips to rivers and lakes. These natural bodies of water can provide a welcome cool down from the scorching summer heat. Not to mention, they can often be a great source of fun and adventure for the whole family. But don’t forget about lake and river safety!

It’s wonderful to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer, but lakes and rivers can also pose dangers if you aren’t careful. Our guide to lake and river safety will help keep you and your family safe while you enjoy the natural aquatic wonders of Virginia or wherever your vacation may take you this summer.

Be Prepared

 Check weather conditions at your destination before setting out. If thunderstorms are likely, you may want to postpone your trip until another time.

Make sure your kids know how to swim. If any of your children can’t swim or are not yet strong swimmers, sign them up for swimming lessons before your vacation date.

If possible, choose a destination that has a designated swimming area with a lifeguard on duty. If you choose to swim without a lifeguard, use the buddy system. No one should swim completely alone, even if they are a very strong swimmer.

Talk to your children about proper safety before you visit a river or lake. Emphasize that safety guidelines like using the buddy system and listening to lifeguard instructions are firm rules, not suggestions, especially with young children who may not be as aware of their surroundings.

If you will be canoeing, kayaking, or rafting, be sure to check your equipment thoroughly before setting out. If you use a guide or tour service, make sure they have a good safety reputation. And don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if you have any concerns.

Also familiarize yourself with river conditions and the location of rapids. Do not attempt to navigate any rapids that are above your skill level without the help of an experienced guide.

Make sure to pack everything you will need for a day of swimming or water sports, such as

  • Sunscreen – Always protect your skin when you will be spending time outdoors, even if it is cloudy.
  • Food – Bring snacks and/or lunch depending on how long you plan to stay. Swimming and outdoor play take a lot of energy. You and your kids will want to recharge.
  • Water – Bring fresh tap or bottled water from home. Untreated lake or river water is not safe to drink, so you should always have potable water on hand for hydration.
  • Life jackets – If anyone in your family is not a strong swimmer, they should wear a life jacket at all times in or near the water. Everyone should wear life jackets for any kind of boating activity.
  • Cell phone – You may want to turn your phone off to enjoy time with your family, but don’t leave it behind completely. In case of an emergency, you will want a communication device. If you will be going somewhere without cell service, consider brining a goTenna – a device that allows you to text and access GPS information without Wi-Fi or cell service.

Swim Safe

Unlike your neighborhood pool, rivers and lakes can be unpredictable and may pose hidden dangers. Take precautions to stay safe while swimming in natural bodies of water.

  • No Diving – Always enter the water feet first to start with. You can’t be sure of the depth just from looking. And never dive into water where you can’t see the bottom. Even if the water is deep, there could be hidden debris that could cause serious injury.
  • Pay attention to currents – Rivers can have swift currents that may take swimmers by surprise, causing them to be swept away. Always be alert to river conditions and test the water carefully.
  • Watch out for debris – Natural bodies of water will also contain other natural objects that could impede swimmers. Be on the lookout for rocks, branches, dams, and anything else that could be hazardous.
  • Don’t swallow or inhale the water – Untreated fresh water can contain some nasty microbes that can be harmful to humans. Don’t swallow lake or river water. And make sure to hold your nose when jumping into the water. Water entering the nasal cavity can be especially dangerous.
  • Thunder and lightning – get out of the water at the first sign of thunder or lightning. Find shelter, and don’t return to swimming until half an hour after you hear the last thunder.
  • Supervise children – Keep a close eye on your kids. Drowning can happen in moments, and strong swimmers are not immune. Be aware of your children’s swimming abilities and supervise their activities accordingly.
  • Water temperature – The air outside may be hot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the water is warm as well. Especially if you are somewhere with a high altitude, the ground temperature may keep water cooler. Test the water before jumping right in to be sure it’s not too cold.

Wherever your summer vacation plans take you, be aware of safety concerns and do your best to be prepared. Nothing ruins a fun and relaxing vacation faster than unexpected accidents or injuries.

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