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Swimming safely in rivers and lakes

Open-air pools are often pretty crowded when the weather gets hot, so many people prefer to cool down in a river or lake. Read here what to look out for when swimming in open water.

When the open-air pool's crowded to bursting, for many people the natural alternative's much more tempting: drifting downriver in a rubber boat or on an air mattress, or jumping into a cool, refreshing lake. But there are more, and different, dangers to look out for in natural waterways than in a swimming pool, so you have to take special care.

According to the Swiss Lifesaving Society (SLRG), around 50 people drown in Switzerland every year – more often in rivers and lakes than in swimming pools. Drowning is the second-most frequent accident-related cause of death among children; according to the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu), only road accidents claim more lives.

According to the SLRG, you should follow certain rules:

  • Only venture into open water if you're a good swimmer.
  • Don't jump or dive into murky or unknown water.
  • Don't swim long distances on your own. Remember that even people who are very fit can experience weakness.
  • The colder the water, the shorter the time you should spend in it. If you get too cold you can easily get muscle cramps.
  • Don't jump in the water if you're too hot: after sunbathing your body needs time to adjust.
  • Never let children go near the water on their own; stay within reach and keep a very close eye on them.
  • Don't swim on a full or empty stomach.

If you're using a rubber boat or air mattress:

  • Don't venture into deep water with air mattresses and buoyancy aids, as they won't keep you safe.
  • If you're in an inflatable boat, wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
  • Don't tie boats together, as it makes them difficult to manoeuvre.
  • Don't exceed the load limit written on your boat.
  • If you don't know the particular stretch of river, check it out before you get in the water.

For more information on safety in and around the water, please visit the SLRG website.