As the weather warms up, many families love to head to the lake for some fun in the sun. And while getting outdoors is good for the body and soul, water safety around the lake should always be your first priority. Lakes aren’t like your backyard pool–they’re fun and beautiful, but also present unknown challenges and risks that are dangerous, and even deadly, if you’re not prepared. In this blog, we’ll cover some of the differences between pool and lake swimming, along with tips to make your next family outing an enjoyable, safer experience.
Lakes are Not Pools
Any body of water, from your bathtub to your backyard pool to your local lake, represents both fun and risk. But it’s important to understand that lakes and pools are very different from one another. Water safety is, of course, top priority around both, however, lakes require a bit more preparation and understanding in order to keep your family safe. Here are some of the key differences in lake vs. pool recreation:
Life vests are a mandatory part of lake safety
While we urge parents to avoid relying on life vests for their children when around pools, the opposite is true when you’re on the lake. Falling from a boat, jetski, or paddle board into cold water can cause shock and panic in even the most experienced swimmers. If you’re far from shore, your life jacket can help ensure that you can swim to safety. And if you do panic, your life jacket keeps you afloat with your head above water until help arrives.
Tip: Always wear a fitted, Type II or Type III personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket any time you are out of a designated lake swimming area. No matter how proficient of a swimmer you are, you should always wear a life jacket or vest any time you are boating–power or paddle–or paddle boarding away from the shore or outside designated swimming areas. Additionally, you should have a loud, water-resistant whistle attached to your life vest so that you can alert nearby watercraft if you need help. And always, always, put your children in properly-fitted life jackets at the lake.
Water depth dictates water temperature
In a pool, the temperature of the water doesn’t vary by any meaningful degree. Lakes water, however, can vary in temperature by tens of degrees or more. Shore-swimming beaches might be nice and warm, requiring only a standard bathing suit. However, deeper water, like that in the middle of the lake, might be so cold that you would need a wetsuit or drysuit to swim safely for any length of time. Even water as warm as 60℉ (15.5℃) can lead to loss of dexterity in as little as 10 minutes, making it difficult, if not impossible, to swim to shore.
Tip: Always know the depth and temperature of the water where you’ll be swimming, boating, skiing, or paddleboarding. A website like the USGS Real-Time Water Temperature Map can help you determine whether the lake you’re planning on visiting is a safe water temperature for swimming. Also, understand the length of time you can be in the water safely at the lake’s current temperature, and follow guidelines for recommended clothing for boating or deep-water swimming.
Lakes can form unexpected currents, waves, and wakes
Unlike pools, lakes–especially those fed by rivers–can have unexpected water currents that can pull novice swimmers away from the safety of shore, or even under the water. Even spring-fed lakes can form currents due to underwater rock formations, air and water temperatures, and wind. Surface waves and wakes, caused either by wind or passing speed boats, can also overwhelm novice swimmers.
Tip: When swimming from a lakeside beach, stay close to the shore and be mindful of swimming area markers. Swimming beaches at public lake shores are typically demarcated by buoys and/or ropes. Keep yourself and your children within those marked areas, where there is less chance of an underwater or surface current to complicate swimming. If you are swimming outside a designated area, be mindful of boats, and always wear a life vest.
Lakes are unpredictable
If you’re at a lake that doesn’t have a clearly marked swimming area, you run the risk of finding drop-offs and deep spots the hard way. For those who are not strong swimmers, they should stay in scouted areas where they know the water depth. If the lake is unknown, anyone who is not a strong swimmer should wear a life jacket, even close to shore. Additionally, lake bottoms can be slippery or contain sharp rocks, edges, branches, or fish hooks.
Tip: Have a strong swimmer scout your swimming area and wear foot protection at all times when swimming at the lake. Non-skid water shoes provide protection against slippery surfaces and possible foot punctures. Once the area is scounted, be sure a strong swimmer always accompanies younger kids and those less experienced at all times when they are in the water.
Buddy Up and Put Safety First
Like always, we advocate using the buddy system when swimming, and that includes lake recreation. Whether swimming, boating, or paddle boarding at the lake, never participate in water recreation alone, and always make sure that at least one person in your party is a strong swimmer.
We also recommend taking an instructional course prior to going out kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding for the first time. You’ll learn valuable safety tips and proper techniques, including how to self-rescue if you fall into the water.
Get Your Family Ready for Lake Recreation with Survival Swim
Like all things swimming, your best protection is preparation. The stronger a swimmer, the safer they will be around any body of water, including lakes. Survival Swim prepares people, both young and old, with the confidence and skills they need to stay calm and rational in the water, which increases their chances of survival in an emergency.
Learn to swim with Survival Swim today, and start preparing for a fun and safe swimming season. Find an Instructor near you and get the Survival Swim App so you can start teaching Survival Swim to your young swimmers today.