Swimming Safely in Inland Waterways

Hundreds of people drown every year in Australia. Most of those deaths are in inland waterways such rivers, lakes and dams, and most of those people know how to swim.

Know the hazards and know your limitations so that you don’t put yourself or others in danger.

Inland waterways - the hazards

Even though inland waterways look inviting, especially when the surface is calm, they pose hidden dangers.

  • Currents and fast-flowing water are unpredictable. They are always changing and can be strong, even when the surface of the water appears still.
  • Underwater hazards such as rocks, branches and rubbish can create snags or cause injury.
  • Crumbling or slippery banks can lead to an accidental fall into the water.
  • Riverbeds may be uneven, unstable or slippery and cause you to lose your footing.
  • Water can be a lot colder than it appears and cause hypothermia, hyperventilation, shock and lack of mobility.
  • Water bodies can contain harmful organisms that cause infections.

Inland waterways - know your limitations

1. Swim within your ability

Some people get into trouble around water and don’t have the swimming ability or physical fitness to get themselves out of it. Inland waterways are not patrolled by lifeguards, and if someone gets into trouble, there may be no one there to assist. To prevent drowning, know your fitness levels and don’t overestimate your swimming ability.

2. Be aware of medical conditions

Medical conditions (including cardiac, dementia and seizures), and medications you are taking, can affect your ability in the water. It’s important to be conscious of these conditions, before going near the water.

3. Don’t drink and drown

Alcohol, drugs and water don’t mix, particularly when other medications are also being consumed.

4. Learn lifesaving skills

Far too many drownings occur when someone tries to help a swimmer in trouble and they get into difficulties themselves.  Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Join a swimming program to improve your swimming ability, and learn first aid and lifesaving skills.

Inland waterways - safety tips

  • Don’t enter the water if you cannot swim. Shallow water can quickly become deep water, and flowing water can sweep you off your feet.
  • Always enter the water slowly and feet first. Never jump or dive in.
  • Always check the water depth. If you can see the bottom, the water may be more shallow than it appears. If you can't see the bottom, then you don't know how deep it is and whether there are any submerged obstacles such as logs and rocks.
  • Check the water temperature. Even on the hottest of days, water in shaded pools or fast flowing rivers can be icy cold. Gorges are particularly prone to sudden changes in conditions where you can experience wind gusts, or torrents and flash floods following heavy rainfall in the upland catchment.
  • Take care on slippery, uneven or soft, unstable surfaces near or in the water.
  • Actively supervise children, including those who have learnt to swim.
  • Never swim alone or at night.
  • Never swim in fast-flowing water.
  • Never jump from cliffs into the water.
  • If you get cold, get out of the water.
  • Heavy rainfall alters water levels and flow. Don’t try to cross flooded waterways. Strong currents are often present, especially where rivers enter lakes or dams.
  • Don't swim in water that looks discoloured, murky or smells unpleasant. Follow the advice on the Department of Health’s website for Tips for healthy swimming.
  • If someone gets into trouble, throw them a buoyant aid (e.g. life jacket, rescue ring, inflatable tube) and seek help. In an emergency phone 000.