Water Safety


  • Learn to swim. Swimming lessons can prevent drowning.  Teach children to swim at a young age.  Constant and careful supervision around water is still necessary, even when children are good swimmers.
  • Don’t swim alone. Always swim with a buddy.  Select a swimming site that has a lifeguard when possible.
  • Swim within your limits.  Don’t go further from shore or deeper than you can handle.
  • Look before you leap.  Check water depth before diving, and only dive where the water is deep enough and the bottom can be seen and is clear of obstructions.  Avoid diving from or jumping off rock cliffs, ledges, and human-made structures.
  • Never go swimming under the influence.  Avoid drinking alcohol or using controlled substances when swimming or engaging in any other water sports.  
  • Supervise children. Always watch your children in the water.  Beaches and swimming areas are often unguarded, and there may be sharp drop-offs near shore.  Preschool children should be within an arm’s reach of a responsible adult at all times while in the water.  Always be within arm's reach of children if they are playing on the bank of a river or wading because there may be unseen drop-offs or strong undercurrents.  Don’t engage in any distracting activity such as reading, playing cards, or talking on a cellular telephone while supervising children in the water.  Don’t drink alcohol while supervising children in the water.
  • Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).  In the time it might take for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save a life.

Boating in General

The four major causes of drowning while boating are (1) not wearing a life jacket; (2) abuse of alcohol; (3) insufficient swimming skills; and (4) hypothermia, which can develop quickly, regardless of age.

  • Wear a life jacket while boating.  The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that a life jacket could have saved the lives of more than 80 percent of those who have died in boating accidents.  All occupants of a boat should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when on or near the water for floatation and extra warmth.  Air-filled toys and foam toys are not life jackets. Life jackets should be worn on even gentle stretches of water, which can have strong undercurrents, and by good swimmers as well as poor swimmers and non-swimmers. 
  • Learn safe boating practices.  Operator error accounts for 70 percent of boating accidents.  Take a boating safety course. 
  • Learn to swim. Swimming lessons can prevent drowning.
  • Never go boating under the influence.  Avoid drinking alcohol or using controlled substances when boating.
  • Avoid inclement weather.  Always check the weather before going out.  Visit www.noaa.gov for weather updates.
  • Have boating-specific safety equipment.  Take a waterproof bag with a change of clothes.  Carry a first aid kit and other necessary gear in a waterproof container.  Carry a safety whistle, which is required by many states, even on non-motorized boats.  Have appropriate lights on your boat, and use them from sunset to sunrise.  Carry a fire extinguisher on board motor boats, as required by many states.
  • Avoid dams. Water flowing over dams can create a current capable of drawing boats into the face of the dam and holding them under water.  Avoid dam spillways during high water.
  • Stay with your boat if you capsize.  If your boat capsizes, stay with your boat until help arrives.    

White Water

The following safety tips for white water supplement the safety tips for boating in general.

Know your limits.  Don’t attempt a section of river beyond your skill level.  Even if you're just enjoying the river from the bank or gently wading in, white water can be dangerous.  Be prepared, and know what to expect.  

Water levels can change drastically depending on rainfall and water release.  The difficulty level of each section of river can change dramatically with changes in water level.  Gentle stretches can become dangerous when the water level is high.  The Forest Service has U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps that show national forest boundaries and stream flow data for rivers around the nation.

  • Be sure your white water skills and experience are sufficient for the river and current conditions.
  • Check current water levels and weather conditions.
  • Be prepared for extremes in weather, especially cold.  Know about the dangers of hypothermia and how to deal with it.
  • Scout the rapids, and make plans for possible rescues.  Be aware that on some sections of white water, land access may be difficult, and help may be far away.
  • Take white water rescue gear, and know how to use it.
  • Never raft, canoe, or kayak alone on white water.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Reduce threat of injury by wearing protective footwear and proper clothing.
  • Never run a rapid unless you can see a clear path through it.  Watch out for new snags after winter and spring floods.
  • Allow the craft ahead of you to pass through a rapid before you enter it.
  • If you capsize, don’t panic.  Don’t attempt to stand in rapids, swim against the current, or stay with your boat.  Float on your back with your feet pointed downstream to push off obstacles.  If you are carried over a ledge or drop-off, tuck into a ball.  Let the current carry you to shore or calm water. 
  • Don’t allow children in or near whitewater.  
  • Always use caution when walking or climbing on rocks.  Rocks are slippery when wet.


The following safety tips for canoeing supplement the safety tips for boating in general.

Safety is important on calm water as well as white water.  Even gentle stretches of water can have strong undercurrents.

  • Learn basic water rescue techniques.  Know the symptoms and treatment for hypothermia.
  • Know your limits.  Don’t attempt to navigate a section of river beyond your skill level.
  • If your canoe capsizes, don’t panic.
  • In calm water, stay with your canoe.  A canoe will float even if it’s full of water.  Right the canoe, and paddle or push it towards the shore.  Once you reach shallow water, flip the canoe to empty it, and get back in.
  • In white water, don’t try to stay with your canoe.  Float on your back with your feet pointed downstream to push off obstacles.  If you are carried over a ledge or drop-off, tuck into a ball.  Let the current carry you to shore or calm water.