Natural Water Safety

Headed to the Beach, River, or Lake this Summer?
Follow theses tips to keep you and your loved ones safe 

As the temperatures rise, many people head to the water to cool off. Make sure you take some safety precautions to ensure the water fun continues through the summer. 

First, make sure you know how to swim! Drowning is a leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths among children 5-14. While children are at highest risk, anyone can drown. In fact, in Virginia, a resident dies from drowning every four days! 

Always swim with a buddy and make sure you know the signs of drowning. Close supervision of children in the water is critical. Remember, children do not always struggle in the water. They can drown without making a sound. 

Headed to the beach or the lake?  Natural bodies of water, like lakes, rivers, reservoirs, bays and the ocean, can pose additional risks like tides, currents, drop offs, limited visibility, and animals. Make sure you know the waters you swim in and never swim alone! Wear a life jacket and remember these tips to stay safe: 

  • Visiting a creek or pond you don’t know? Don’t dive or jump! Hidden rocks and snags can injure you.  
  • Dead animals near water are a sign of possible harmful algal blooms (HABs). Don’t swim where you see them!  
  • Be especially careful when swimming with children. Murky water and unexpected drop-offs can increase the risk of drowning. 
  • Watch out for riptides and strong currents at the beach, especially after stormy weather.  
  • Don’t swim in rivers with strong currents and near dams. You could get pinned under the water. Choose calm areas to swim. 
  • If the water level is up, don’t swim! Rainwater can cause sewer overflows and wash animal waste into the water. Stay out of the water for a few days after a heavy rain. 
  • Swimming is not advised for people or pets, if the water: 
    • Is discolored. 
    • Is murky. 
    • Has an odor. 
    • Has a film on the surface. 

“When in doubt – get out” – if the water conditions change, or you’re getting tired, or something isn’t right, get out of the water. 

Additionally, exposure to any natural body of water represents a possible health risk, particularly swallowing untreated water or swimming with open wounds. Children under the age of five, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of contracting illness. 

Consider the following steps to prevent getting sick from natural bodies of water:

Before visiting:

  • Check online before visiting. Check to see if the area is currently monitored, is under an advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons. See the following for possible advisories:
  • Avoid swimming for three days after a heavy rain. Germs can come from overflowing sewage, polluted storm water, and runoff from land.  

While visiting:

  • Avoid going in the water: 
    • if you are sick with vomiting or diarrhea or if you have cuts or open wounds.
    • near storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water from streets).
    • if there is a green film on the surface. Keep pets out as well. This film may mean that an algal bloom and some algal toxins are present. These toxins can make people and pets sick.
    • near the vicinity of livestock.
  • Never swallow untreated water. Natural bodies of water might contain germs and contaminants, which can cause illness.
  • Keep sand away from your mouth and children’s mouths. Sand contains germs that can cause illness if swallowed.
  • Do not poop in the water.
    • Take kids on bathroom breaks and check diapers in bathrooms or diaper-changing areas.
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing and eating food. This tip is particularly important if you have been playing in or touching sand. 

After visiting:

  • Shower or bathe after swimming to wash off possible germs and contaminants.  
  • Immediately wash wounds and cuts thoroughly with soap and clean running water.  

For people with boats, it is extremely important to use the proper methods to dispose human waste. Always discharge boat sewage at marinas with a pump-out unit or dump station. Here is a list of Pump-out locations around Virginia. Check out these FAQs for more information! 

For recommendations on healthy practices during water activities, see and CDC’s How to Safely Visit Oceans, Lakes, and Rivers website.