Water-related accidents are very common among travelers. Swimmers of all ability levels should take the following steps to ensure that they safely engage with their environment.
According to U.S. Department of State data reported on by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), “135 Americans drowned abroad in 2018; over the last two years, 18 percent of all non-natural U.S. citizen deaths abroad have been by drowning.” We recommend following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tips for Water Safety Abroad.
Learn about the water-related health & safety risks at your destination
- Research local water conditions, currents, and rules before you get in the water.
- Ask about local sea animals (urchins, jellyfish, coral, sharks, crocodiles, etc.). A sting or bite from a sea creature could be fatal.
- Use experienced guides when boating, scuba diving, or participating in other water-related activities. Confirm which activities are covered under the international insurance.
Be aware of your surroundings
- Pay attention to colored flags posted on the beach, which may indicate if it is safe to swim or not. Make sure you understand and follow these local warnings.
- Watch for signs of rip currents (water moving quickly away from the shore), which can forcefully pull you into deeper waters. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until free from the rip current, then swim diagonally toward the shore.
Take steps to prevent injury
- Use proper safety equipment such as life jackets.
- Never swim alone or in unfamiliar waters. Even if you're a strong swimmer, circumstances beyond your control (like rip currents) can be devastating.
- To lower your risk of drowning, do NOT drink alcohol before or during swimming, diving, or boating. Alcohol affects balance, coordination, and judgment. Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation.
- Do NOT dive in shallow water. Always enter water feet first.
- Be aware of hidden obstacles (like rocks or fallen trees) in the water that could cause injury.
- Supervise children closely around water. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14.
Take steps to prevent infections that can spread from contact with water
- Even contaminated fresh water can cause infections, such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis.
- Don’t swallow the water. It may have harmful germs.
- Don’t swim or wade: near storm drains, water that may be contaminated with sewage (human or animal feces and urine or wastewater runoff), lakes or rivers after heavy rainfall, freshwater streams, or warm seawater if you have open cuts or wounds. Breaks in the skin can let harmful germs into your body.
- Protect the health of others by NOT swimming if you have diarrhea. Any amount of infected fecal matter can contaminate an entire pool or hot tub and make others sick if they swallow the water.
- To find out if the water at your next destination carries risk for these infections, search your Destination on the CDC website and check the link to “Stay Healthy and Safe,” where you will find precautions for staying safe around water.