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Water Safety

Whether a tiny trickle of a creek, enough to cool your toes, or the vast expanses of beaches, water provides an exciting element to outdoor recreation. Even the most seasoned of water enthusiasts can be surprised by changing water conditions. Enjoy your day, but remember these tips:


A small waterfall and trees

Hazards include slippery rocks and surfaces from mist and algae. 

  • Heed posted warning signs.

  • Enjoy from a distance.

  • Stay on established trails and enjoy the view from overlooks.

  • Don’t jump off of waterfalls or dive into waterfall pools. Unseen objects, such as logs and boulders, may be under the water’s surface.

  • Never swim or wade upstream near a waterfall, even if the water appears shallow and calm. The currents close to the falls could pull swimmers over the edge.

Rivers, streams

Middle Branch Ontonagon River

Changing seasons contribute to rapid changes in rivers and streams. In summer, rivers and streams often swell from runoff caused by snowmelt. That also could mean powerful currents that can easily sweep you off your feet. 

  • Avoid rock hopping. Stream polished rocks along the water's edge may be slippery when wet or dry.

  • If you choose to cross a stream by going through it, study the area first. Avoid deep and/or swift water.

  • When crossing on a natural bridge of rocks or logs, consider where you will land if you fall. Never cross above rapids or falls.

  • If you are crossing a stream, unbuckle your pack's waist strap so you can shed it if you fall to prevent being pulled under by its weight. Consider putting your back in a waterproof back, which become a floating device to help your head stay above water.

  • Do not tie yourself into safety ropes — they can drown you.

  • If you fall into fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under. Most drownings result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge, between boulders or snagged in tree limbs or other debris. Lay on your back with your feet pointing downstream and toes pointing up toward the surface. Always look downstream and be prepared to fend off rocks with your feet.

  • If you don't know how to swim, wear a life vest that meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements. 


Main hazards

Mill dam recreation area
  • Do not dive into the water. Jumping from cliffs or bridges is dangerous due to shallow water, submerged rocks, trees, or other hazards.

  • Choose swimming areas carefully and swim only during low water conditions.

  • Always swim with a buddy and in supervised areas, preferably ones with a lifeguard on duty.

  • Always supervise children closely. Do not read, play cards, talk on the phone, or engage in any other distracting activity while watching children in or around water.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming or boating. Avoid drinking alcohol while supervising children around water.

  • Learn to swim. Enroll yourself and your children in swimming classes. However, don't consider your children to be “drown-proof” because you enrolled them in an infant water-proofing class or swimming class. A child who falls into water unexpectedly may panic and forget learned swimming skills.

  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Because of the time it might take for emergency services to arrive, your CPR skills can make a difference in saving someone's life.

  • Use life jackets that meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements when boating, regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat, or swimming ability of boaters.

  • Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles, or inner tubes, in place of life jackets. These are toys and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous to swimmers and boaters.

Coastal beaches

Aerial view of a river estuary in the Puget Sound area.

Main hazards include large unexpected waves, cold water and swift currents, and log/debris hazards. Additional hazards include sand cave-ins, unstable slopes, mud flats and high tides trapping beachcombers. Know these safety tips:

  • Always keep one eye on the water to detect large unexpected waves.

  • Face the water when very near the waves.

  • Check the forecast for high surf advisory before going to the beach.

  • Know the tides so rising water doesn't trap you.

  • Observe the waves when arriving at the beach. Double the highest wave you see to estimate how high the waves might get during your visit.

  • Wear a life jacket when fishing or tide pooling because these activities require you to be very near the surf with your attention diverted.

  • Beware of the cold water, it can quickly sap your strength.

  • If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the beach to get out of the current, then swim toward shore.

  • Keep a close watch on children even if they are far from the water. They can quickly enter the water and get in trouble when your attention is diverted for only a moment.

  • Don't go in the water after someone in trouble. Rescue from shore and get help.

Remember: You are responsible for your safety and for the safety of those around you.