Safety check: staying safe around waterways

Officials with the American Red Cross and U.S. Forest Service are urging caution this summer, as waterways are experiencing stronger, colder flows than in usual seasons.
Officials with the American Red Cross and U.S. Forest Service are urging caution this summer, as waterways are experiencing stronger, colder flows than in usual seasons.

With the warm summer weather upon us, officials with the American Red Cross and U.S. Forest Service wish to remind the public it’s a wonderful time to enjoy lakes, rivers, and streams, but important to keep safety in mind as well.

These water ways continue to be fed by the melting snows over the High Sierra. The Upper Kings, San Joaquin, and Merced rivers will continue to run with swift and extremely cold water. Bass, Shaver, Huntington and many other lakes that can be found and enjoyed will be filled with cold waters from many streams and creeks.

As inviting as the water seems, especially on a hot summer day, it can be very dangerous. Cold water can cause hypothermia to set in quickly and overwhelm even the strongest of swimmers.

Surface debris can be an issue as well. When boating, be sure that there are enough flotation devices (life jackets) for all on board, and they are easy to access. Do not operate the craft while consuming alcoholic beverages, and be aware of other boaters, water skiers, and swimmers enjoying the lakes.

Be cautious anytime you or your family are near rivers, lakes and streams. When water appears warm or slow moving there are sometimes strong currents moving below the surface. It is important to take care when walking on slippery surfaces around or even in the water. A slippery and uneven river bottom combined with the river’s swift current can cause you to lose your balance and sweep you downstream, not to mention debris or other potential underwater hazards.

Here are a few additional tips to follow, for you to recreate in or around water on the Sierra NF responsibly:

Check river, lake, and stream conditions before heading out and always let someone know where you are going and when you will return.

Check boating regulations for the lake and be sure that the boat operator is experienced.

Wear a properly fitting personal floatation device (life jacket) for all river, lake and boating activities. Don’t assume you have the swimming skills to keep you afloat, even the strongest swimmers cannot be a match for raging waters.

Inquire about swimming regulations. At some recreation sites swimming is not recommended or may even be prohibited. Obey “no swimming” signs.

Where allowed, choose swimming areas carefully. Often hazards are not visible in what may seem like a good place to swim or wade.

When near rapids or other moving water, always stay on the established trails or developed areas.

Keep a close watch on children, even if they are far from the water.

Don’t walk, play or climb on slippery rocks and logs near rivers and streams.

Don’t swim or wade upstream from a waterfall, even if the water appears shallow or calm.

Be cautious of sudden drop offs.

Here’s some additional tips:

Do not use alcohol and/or drugs before or while swimming, particularly near dangerous rapid flows.

Be aware of conditions in the water. That can include fast-moving currents, vegetation that can entangle feet and legs, or underwater obstacles.

Even if someone else falls in, do not enter if the current or waves are dangerous. Throw anything that will help provide the victim support, such as a foam cooler or inner tube, and make sure to call 911.

If the water is calm, put on a life jacket, wade into the water, and reach toward the person with a pole, branch, life jacket, or other object.

For more tips on swimming safely in rivers, lakes and streams, click here.