Swimming in inland lakes differs from taking a dip in your local pool. You often have to share the lake with boaters, water skiers and other recreational vehicles. Whether sandy or rocky, lake bottoms are often uneven and produce startling, sudden drop-offs into deep waters. You may have to contend with fish, seaweed and fishing residue such as fish hooks buried in the sand. Water conditions in lakes can be unpredictable. Always check with local park authorities for information about area lake swimming rules.
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Get to Know Your Surroundings
Lake swimming safety begins with a good understanding of what dangers your lake poses to swimmers. In some glacier-fed lakes, hypothermia is a real risk, even on warm summer days. Know what the water temperature is before you wade in. Find out what the lake depth is so you can dive safely. Test your cell phone on shore, as carrier signals vanish on many remote lakes. Know where the emergency call boxes and rescue equipment are located.
Never Swim Alone
Lakes are typically large, wide and deep. Even when the lake is crowded with swimmers and boaters, you should never venture out alone. Always swim with a buddy or in a group. Be aware of who is in your group and where they are at all times. Lake rip tides can pull a swimmer under and away from shore very quickly. Learn to recognize lake wave actions so you can avoid potentially dangerous tide situations.
Respect the Rules
Check to see if there are rules posted for swimmers at the lake you are visiting. You can often find written guidelines in pamphlets at the ranger station or in local convenience stores. On boating lakes, swimmers are kept apart from boaters to avoid accidents. Usually, unsupervised beaches maintain buoys and rope lines to designate swimming areas. Do not carry glass items onto the beach or into the lake, because broken glass is a hazard to swimmers and beach-goers.
Watch For Weather Hazards
Lake hazards can come from the sky above. Read or listen to a weather report for the lake area before you set out for the day. If the weather threatens to turn unpleasant, take a portable battery-operated radio to listen for weather alerts. Leave the water at the first sound of thunder and don't re-enter the water until at least 20 minutes after the last clap of thunder has passed. Evacuate the beach entirely in the event of lightning.
Keep Children Safe
If you take children to swim in a lake, keep them within your grasp at all times. Strong underwater currents can catch youngsters by surprise and pull them under in seconds. Always have your children wear life vests in the water. Be prudent about allowing them into the water after a meal, or if they are over-heated. Take along a beach umbrella to provide shade and a cool place for children to rest between swims.