Water Activities and the Risk of Drowning

Traveling can provide the opportunity to enjoy many water-related activities, but there is also a risk of injury or illness. Travelers, even expert swimmers, may not be aware of the water risks and features at their destination which increases the risk of drowning.

News related to university students and the risk of drowning:

According to WHO, in 2012, an estimated 372 000 people died from drowning, making drowning a major public health problem worldwide. Injuries account for over 9% of total global mortality. Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. According to the CDC, half of all drownings occur in natural water settings, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans.

There are many things travelers can do to reduce risks around water-related activities. The CDC recommends the following water safety measures.

Get training

  • Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect you from drowning. UT Dallas offers swimming classes.
  • Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In the time it might take for lifeguards or paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone’s life.  UT Dallas offers CPR Certification Courses.
  • Learn boating safety. Take a boating safety course.

Get familiar with the area

  • Swim only when lifeguards are on duty.
  • 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, which may vary from one beach to another.
  • Learn about the local water conditions, currents, and rules before entering the water.
  • Learn the risks associated with local sea animals, such as urchins, jellyfish, coral, and sea lice, before you get in or on the water.
  • Be aware of and avoid hidden obstacles in the water.

Equipment and Guides

  • Use proper safety equipment such as life jackets.
  • Make sure your gear, such as scuba masks and tanks, are properly fitted and maintained.
  • Use experienced guides when boating, scuba diving, or participating in other water-related activities.

Watch out for each other

  • Use Buddy Systems and Lifeguards. Regardless of your age, always swim with a buddy. And select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.
  • Watch swimmers in or around the water. Designate a responsible adult who can swim and knows CPR to watch swimmers in or around water. The supervisor should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, or talking on the phone) while watching the swimmers.

Alcohol and drugs

  • DO NOT drink alcohol or consume drugs before or during swimming, diving, or boating. Alcohol and drugs affect balance, coordination, and judgment.

Other things to consider

  • Never swim alone or in unfamiliar waters.
  • DO NOT dive in shallow water. Always enter water feet first.
  • Avoid 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

  • 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.


The risk information in this post is retrieved from sources as listed in the post. It provides general guidance for UT Dallas travelers. Please note the published date of this post,  and go to the direct sources listed in the post for the most up-to-date information.  The information in this post may change without prior notice.

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