11 of the Most Dangerous Places to Swim

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020

About ten people die from unintentional drowning every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep yourself safe by watching where you take a dip.

orange life buoy on the waves as a symbol of help and hope

The drowning epidemic

Splashing in the ocean or a pool is a fun way to spend your summer and beat the heat, but it doesn’t come without risks. Every year, more than 3,500 people fatally drown unintentionally, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Twenty percent of those are kids younger than 14 years old. Drowning isn’t always obvious, look out for these 8 silent drowning signs.

Taking the proper precautions, like these 12 essential water safety tips, saves lives. “The truth is that most of these unintentional drownings can be avoided. The most important thing is prevention,” says Gabriella Cardone, MD, an emergency medicine pediatrician with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and attending physician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Waves in ocean Splashing Waves
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An ocean

It really doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are—never go alone. “Even the most experienced scuba divers and Olympic swimmers will tell you to swim with a buddy,” says Dr. Cardone. The ocean, with all its variables (currents, undertows, changing weather, boats) is an unpredictable beast, and the buddy system means you can both look out for each other and call for help if needed. These 15 beach safety rules can help save your life.

A close-up of a yacht in Antibes, France. Blue tone, copy space.

Beside a boat

Every year, 332 people die drowning in boat accidents, says the CDC. From a boat’s view, it’s not always easy to see people in the water below; swimming near one may also put you close to the boat’s engines, ropes, or other equipment, says Dr. Cardone.

Stair swimming pool in hotel pool resort.
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Home swimming pool

Kids are most likely to drown in a home swimming pool. They have to be watched at all times, as most parents know, but accidents can happen when adults assume that someone else is watching the kids. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests naming an adult to be the “Water Watcher,” someone who will supervise the pool, promising not to text or go on social media while “on duty.”

A small red boat at dusk.

On a boat

Being on board small motorized boats are another drowning risk, says the International Life Saving Federation (ILS). People get into trouble after boating accidents, capsizing, or falling overboard, they explain. The best way to stay safe? Wear a life jacket—88 percent of those in boat-related drownings weren’t wearing one, per the CDC.

Girl floating on beach mattress and eating watermelon in the blue pool. Tropical fruit diet. Summer holiday idyllic. Top view.

At a pool party

Margaritas and daiquiris may be summertime poolside staples, but water and alcohol (or drugs for that matter) don’t mix, says Dr. Cardone. “Even if you have ‘just’ a couple of drinks, you may be drunker than you think—or more likely to take a risk and dive into a shallow pool,” she says. When you’re in at the pool, look out for these 17 hidden dangers.

Late afternoon view of Lake Tekapo shoreline just behind the Church of the Good Shepherd. Many sandflies / mosquitoes are visible - an iconic pest around this area.

A lake in late afternoon

It may surprise you to know that drownings occur in a pattern—they’re most likely in the mid to late afternoon, says the ILS. It’s not only the hottest time in the day, but people are tired after being active for several hours and may also be drinking alcohol, the organization points out.

Swimming pool edge with ladder, fence and sky background
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A public pool

A lifeguard may be on duty, but they’re only one person. “Don’t assume they’ll notice that someone is in trouble in the water, there is too much for them to notice in general,” says Dr. Cardone. That’s a good thing to remember if you have kids—if you bring them to the pool, you’re in charge of keeping an eye on them. (In general, one adult per kid is a good ratio, she says.) These are all the water safety tips lifeguards wish you knew.

Irrigation ditch in the plain of the River Esla, in Leon Province, Spain.

A ditch

You don’t need a deep pool or pond for a drowning accident. Small kids can drown in a few inches of water, says the ILS. The World Health Organization (WHO) points out that even ditches or irrigation channels pose a risk to children. (A bucket full of water can even be deep enough to drown in.) Even if children are playing in the backyard or neighborhood, they still need to be supervised at all times.

Bathtub decoration in bathroom interior
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A bathtub

You don’t think of this as a prime swim spot, but it’s where babies are most often exposed to the water. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), drowning is a leading cause of death for young kids. One reason: the pool, but another is the bathtub. They’re tempted to stand, it’s slippery, and they can go under. Kids younger than four should never be left alone in the tub for any period of time.

Athabasca Falls is a waterfall in Jasper National Park on the upper Athabasca River, approximately 30 kilometres south of the townsite of Jasper, Alberta, Canada, just west of the Icefields Parkway.

A river

One feature of a river: the current, which can compromise your ability to swim. Fast-moving water can also knock you off your feet and submerge you. As the U.S. Forest Service points out, drownings frequently happen after someone gets an ankle or leg caught between rocks or tree limbs.

Dock on a Missouri Lake.
Sharon Day/Shutterstock

A dock in a marina

You may not be aware of a term called “electric shock drowning,” but it happens when a low-level electrical current in the water causes paralysis so that the person can’t swim, explains the nonprofit Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association. (It’s akin to taking a plugged-in hair dryer into the bath with you.) The majority of cases happen around marinas and docks due to writing or boats, and there’s no way to tell if there’s an electrical current in the water. Electricity is nothing to mess with—these are 11 deadly electricity myths that everyone should know.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest