Swimming in Rivers: Know the Dangers

Few things are more gratifying than cooling off on a hot summer’s day with a jump in a lake or river. It’s a time-honored tradition: beating the heat by immersing yourself in one of nature’s refreshing watercourses. However, it’s important to remember that many natural water features can be hazardous. Rivers, in particular, boast many hidden dangers that swimmers should be aware of. Before diving into those rippling waves, be sure to take appropriate precautions and keep the following tips in mind.


It’s important to avoid diving in areas of a river where rocks are present. Because swimmers don’t know what lies beneath the surface of the water, they shouldn’t dive in areas they are unfamiliar with. Even swimming near rocks could pose a danger. Swimmers can cut or scrape their legs and ankles against submerged rocks. Rocks can also be slippery, making it difficult to climb out of the water.

Submerged Trees and Other Obstructions

Rocks aren’t the only river hazard that swimmers need to look out for. Other types of debris can pose a danger for divers and swimmers. Trees that have fallen into the water can pose a hazard. The river might also contain littered items, like old tires, metal signs, car parts, and more. Rubbish in the water can cause cuts and scrapes or pose a serious hazard for divers.

Bacteria and Toxic Algae

Swimmers should not only avoid dirty, visibly polluted rivers, but also watercourses that are loaded with algae. Some types of algae are toxic. Swallowing just a bit can lead to cramps and vomiting. Some people have suffered nerve and liver damage from cyanobacteria. Dangerous amoebas in the water, if swallowed, can even cause death. Dirty water may contain potentially lethal bacteria like E. coli.

Fast Currents

Drowning is a serious concern that swimmers face when entering any body of water, but the risk increases, even for strong swimmers, in fast-moving currents. A swimmer can be swept downstream and into rapids that are even more difficult to contend with. If the current is swift, it’s best to avoid swimming.


Swimmers cannot gauge what’s happening beneath the water’s surface until they’re immersed in it. Many rivers, especially tidal rivers or where two rivers meet (the confluence), contain powerful undertows that can’t be seen but can definitely be felt. Undertows have caused many unwary swimmers to drown. These powerful flows can pull swimmers under the water, sweeping them downstream or preventing them from resurfacing to catch their breath.

Take Precautions

It’s typically best to avoid swimming in rivers that are unfamiliar to you. Or, you could check with local city or town officials to learn about the safest water courses for swimmers. If you do swim, always venture into the water with a pal and do your utmost not to swallow any water to reduce your risk for ingesting any potentially harmful bacteria. You should also avoid swimming in rivers if you have a wound or open cut. Afterward, it’s a good idea to take a shower to ensure that your skin is free from any pathogens picked up in the water.

As the summer heats up, rivers are sure to attract throngs of swimmers who just want to cool off. Use this information to make smart decisions about where you swim. Nature’s watercourses can offer relief from the hot weather, but they also carry risks that swimmers must keep in mind as a matter of safety.

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