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Safe Swimming and Diving

woman snorkeling

Traveling can provide the opportunity to enjoy many water-related activities, but there is also a risk of injury or illness—drowning accounts for 14% of deaths of US citizens traveling abroad. From swimming in a hotel’s lavish pool to surfing in the Maldives, people who are around water should follow these tips to stay healthy and safe.

Avoid Injury and Drowning

  • Swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
  • Learn about the local water conditions, currents, and rules before entering the water.
  • Use proper safety equipment such as lifejackets.
  • Make sure your gear, such as scuba masks and tanks, are properly fitted and maintained.
  • Never swim alone or in unfamiliar waters.
  • DO NOT drink alcohol before or during swimming, diving, or boating. Alcohol affects balance, coordination, and judgment.
  • DO NOT dive in shallow water. Always enter water feet first.
  • Be aware of and avoid hidden obstacles in the water.
  • Supervise children closely around water.
  • Obey posted signs and warnings, and recognize that warnings may not always be present.
  • Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags. These may vary from one beach to another.
  • Use experienced guides when boating, scuba diving, or participating in other water-related activities.
  • Learn the risks associated with local sea animals, such as urchins, jellyfish, coral, and sea lice, before you get in or on the water.
  • Watch for signs of rip currents (water moving quickly in a channel away from shore); if you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until free, then swim diagonally toward the shore.

Avoid Germs in the Water

two woman jumping into water near waterfall

  • Don’t swallow the water you are in or on.
  • Don’t swim with open cuts, abrasions, or wounds. Breaks in the skin can let harmful germs into your body.
  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Don’t swim in cloudy water.
  • Be careful about swimming or wading in fresh water in some countries:
    • Infections such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis are spread by contact with fresh water.
    • These microbes can penetrate your skin, so swallowing water isn’t necessary to cause infection.
    • Avoid contact with any fresh water (lakes, rivers, streams) where these infections are a problem (see the destination pages for more information).
    • Seek medical care if you think you have been exposed to a waterborne infection.