Open Water Safety Tips & Reminders

Swimming is great fun, whether you are in a lake or in salt water, but large bodies of water can be powerful, unpredictable, and dangerous.  Here are some tips to help you have fun in the water:

UNDERTOW

If you’ve never experienced a strong undertow, consider yourself lucky. Undertow, also known as rip current, is the invisible current under the surface of the water that retreats back toward the ocean after a wave. These can catch a beach-goer off guard and be extremely strong.

To combat this:

  1. Make sure children are wearing properly fitting life vests
  2. Know your limits
  3. Only swim at approved beaches.
  4. If an undertow is (or could be) present, don’t go into the water any deeper than your ankles!  You can get pulled in and carried away before you know it.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, the following are signs of an undertow:

  • murky brown water, due to stirred up sand or increased depth
  • waves breaking further out on both sides of a rip
  • debris floating out to sea
  • foamy or choppy surface

“Water in a rip current flows seaward at about 3 to 6 feet per second — faster than most people can swim.”

If you are caught in an undertow, do the following:  

  • Don’t panic.
  • Swim parallel to shore until you are out of the current.
  • If you can’t break out, tread water and float. Call or wave for help.
  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Rip currents often occur in these areas.
CREATURES

Keep an eye out underfoot for those barnacles, shells and other sharp objects that might rip open your skin.  Jellyfish stings can be very painful and, in some parts of the world, they can be deadly.

HYPOTHERMIA

Waters in the Pacific Northwest tend to be cold, regardless of the time of year and hypothermia can be a threat, even on a hot day.  According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Faster breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Slight confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate

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