Swimming Safety

Heading out to the lake, or to a pool for somer swimming fun? Spend little time thinking about safety first.

The most important way to make sure you have a safe swimming experience is to find out who can swim and who cannot. Strong swimmers still need to follow safety precautions, but people who can’t really swim need extra help. It’s good to know the difference.

The YMCA Swimming Test

The YMCA has a standard swimming test with three parts:

  • Swim the full length of a standard swimming pool. 
  • Jump into water that is over the swimmer’s head, return to the surface, and get out of the pool.
  • Tread water for one minute, turn over, and swim.

Before you go swimming, have everyone in your group take the test. It’s fun — and anyone who doesn’t pass should make sure to have a swimming buddy or Water Watcher. 

Think about swimming lessons, too! Swimming is great exercise and a practical life skill.

Water Watchers

Children should always be supervised when they’re in the water. An adult should watch them without distractions — put away your phone, magazine, or cocktail and focus on the kids. 

Designate a Water Watcher. That’s a responsible adult who agrees to watch the kids in the water. Print out a Water Watcher card. After 15 minutes, the designated Water Watcher can pass the card on to another watcher. This makes sure that someone is always paying attention.

Safety rules for everyone

Don’t swim alone. That solitary swim at dawn may be a great pleasure, but it’s also a risk. Even experienced swimmers can run into problems. 

Don’t hold your breath. Who hasn’t competed to see who can hold their breath the longest? These seem like simple fun, but they can lead to drowning. 

Don’t go near pool drains. You’d be surprised to learn all the things, from hair to clothing, that have gotten stuck in a pool drain. 

Don’t drink alcohol while swimming. Water accidents often involve alcohol. It can impair your judgement, not to mention your coordination and balance. 

Don’t run around the pool. Everyone who grew up with a pool knows those shouts of “Walk, don’t run!” They’re absolutely right. It’s easy to fall, and pool surrounds are nearly always hard surfaces, and usually slippery when wet. 

Don’t get out of your depth. Swimmers should not go in too deep or out too far. Set limits for kids. Follow posted rules at public swimming places. 

Don’t drink the water. You don’t swim in drinking water, and the water you swim in can have real dangers. Recreational water illnesses, spread by contaminated water, can lead to diarrhea, cramps, and nausea.

That’s a lot of don’ts, but there are also some dos.

Wear a life jacket. Children and non-swimmers should wear life jackets. Everyone should wear life jackets in boats.

Dive only in designated areas. Dive from a diving board, not from a rock or the side of a pool. It can be hard to judge whether the water is deep enough, and even harder to know if there are hazards under the water.

Shower before going into the pool. Spend at least a minute in the shower. 

Reapply sunscreen after swimming. It washes off easily. Protect yourself and your children from sunburn.


There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through water. However, unvaccinated people should follow ordinary safety protocols when swimming with other people. Fully vaccinated people can dispense with masks unless the venue requires them.