boat on a lake

When summer rolls around, it’s tempting to cool off at a scenic lake. Whether you’ll be taking a dip or heading out onto open water in your boat, we say enjoy the water, but remember these safety tips:

Lake swimming

  • Swimming in lakes is more challenging than swimming in a pool. Watch out for currents, waves and underwater obstructions — they’re not just found in the ocean.
  • Do not dive into the water. Jumping from cliffs or bridges is especially dangerous due to hazards such as shallow water or submerged rocks or trees.
  • Always swim with a buddy in supervised areas, preferably ones with a lifeguard on duty.
  • Always supervise children closely. Do not read, talk on the phone or engage in any other distracting activity while watching children in or around water.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming and while supervising children around water.
  • Learn to swim. Enroll yourself and your children in swimming classes, but don’t consider your children to then be “drown-proof.” A child who falls into water unexpectedly may panic and forget their swimming skills.
  • Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles or inner tubes, in place of life jackets. These are toys and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

Lake boating

Basic rules: Even when they’re not required, it’s always a good idea for everyone aboard to wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets that are in serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user. Know the local weather conditions and forecast before heading out on to the water. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes pose serious dangers to boaters.1

  • Complete a checklist prior to launch, including:
    • Checking for inclement weather prior to boating
    • Checking all drain plugs to ensure they are properly installed in the bottom of the boat
    • Verifying that all safety equipment is on board and in good working order, especially your fire extinguisher, horn, flares, flotation devices, flotation throwables, flashlights, marine radio, and propulsion alternates such as paddles and oars
    • Checking that all lights on the boat are in good working order
    • Checking fuel and oil systems for leaks, and making sure that fluid levels are appropriate for your vessel
    • Sharing a float plan with a family member or friend
    • Making sure your load is less than the maximum capacity rating for your vessel
    • Avoid drinking alcohol before and during boating.1
    • Check the after-dark lighting requirements for boats in your state. All states require watercraft (including boats, kayaks, canoes, etc.) to comply. These lighting rules are generally in effect from dusk until dawn and during periods of restricted visibility, such as during fog or rain.
    • Don’t go out on the water alone. Bringing along a buddy can help ensure your safety, should you find yourself injured.
    • When boating, assign someone to be the “spotter.” It’s the spotter’s job to keep an eye out for other people on the water and to alert the captain of the boat to any approaching hazards.
    • Comply with all insurance rules, whether you own or rent your watercraft. Generally speaking, boats and personal watercrafts are required to carry either owner’s or operator’s liability insurance. Insurance requirements vary by state, so check the local rules before hitting the water to avoid any potential fines.2
    • Familiarize yourself with the local laws pertaining to boating on a particular body of water.
[1] “Water Safety,” U.S. Forest Service, (accessed June 10, 2020).
[2] “The Beginner’s Guide to Lake Safety,” Reserve America, (June 8, 2020).
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