Open Water and Beach Safety

What is open water?

Open water may be large bodies of water to include lakes, reservoirs, rivers, bays, oceans, and some large ponds.

Open Water Swimming Pool

Open water conditions may vary from hour to hour with limited or no visibility. Swimming pools typically are chemically treated, clear and environmentally controlled. Differences and challenges may include:

  1. Tide changes 
  2. Currents
  3. Drop offs
  4. Submerged hazards
  5. Encroaching watercraft
  6. Hazardous marine life such as jellyfish
  7. Surf conditions
  8. Little or no visibility 
  9. Changing weather conditions 
  10. Wind
  11. Potentially dangerous structures such as piers, jetties and rock formations that may also present surveillance blind spots
  12. Surveillance blind spots may also include waves, glare, trees and islands.

Open water activities - what are they?

Open water activities include swimming, wading, snorkeling, surfing, water skiing, jet skiing or use of other motorized personal watercraft, tubing, rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, fishing, SCUBA, or participating in open water events. 

What is an open water event?

Open water events are increasing in popularity. These events may include, triathlons, aquathlons (swim/run), river swims, cold water splash activities, beach or pier swims, long distance swims, multi-sport events to include paddling with swimming, paddle races, open water sprints, or other competitive or fundraising events occurring in open water.

What are the dangers of open water activities?

Open water can include a variety of environments, and therefore a variety of hazards.

Dangers associated with open water activities can include:

How to stay safe with open water activities.

  1. Learn how to swim!
  2. Swim in designated areas and under the supervision of a qualified lifeguard. Check with the lifeguard concerning current water conditions. 
  3. Always swim with a buddy. Never swim alone and communicate to others when and where you plan to swim.
  4. Avoid swimming or boating after dark.
  5. “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. 
  6. Know your environment. Be aware of water and weather conditions. 
  7. Know your equipment. If you are swimming or boating long distances, make sure you have floatation and backup equipment. 
  8. Wear a life jacket
  9. Learn Lifesaving Skills
  10. Have an emergency plan. 


Lifeguards are trained to prevent injuries and save lives, and respond to water incidents. 

Increase your margin of safety while swimming - listen to the lifeguard!

If you are a lifeguard, consider getting trained in open water guarding by participating in an Open Water Safety Training program. This training can build on your existing skills and expand your knowledge and abilities by learning how to use equipment involved in open water swimming events and rescue. Protect and save lives at another level!

Lifeguards should possess a current nationally accepted lifeguard certification such as the American Red Cross, YMCA or equivalent. 

Certified lifeguards are typically trained to recognize and respond to water and land emergencies such as distressed swimmers, active drowning victims, passive drowning victims, spinal injuries, cardiac arrest incidents, sudden illness and other medical events. These are all good skills to build on when training to be an open water lifeguard and/or working open water swimming events. 

Training Considerations Include:

  • Higher physical competencies to include increased swimming distances and running.
  • Use of equipment such as two=way radios, megaphones, binoculars, surf rescue boards, kayaks and rescue buoys.
  • Site specific rescue drills in surf and deep water.
  • Coordination with support agencies to include fire and law enforcement.