Water Safety

According to the CDC, death by drowning accidents accounts for thirteen percent of all U.S. citizen deaths abroad. This being the case, be sure to follow the following guidelines from the CDC while on your study abroad/away program. 

Prevent Injury and Drowning

Learn about health and safety risks at your destination. 

  • Research local water conditions, currents, and rules before you get in the water. 
  • Ask about local sea animals, such as urchins, jellyfish, coral, and sea lice. A sting from a sea creature could be fatal, or at least spoil your trip with severe pain. 
  • Use experienced guides when boating, scuba diving, or participating in other water-related activities. 

 
Be aware of your surroundings. 

  • Pay attention to colored beach flags posted on the beach, which 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 in. 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 kill. 
  • To lower your risk of drowning, do NOT use drugs or 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. 

Avoid Germs in the Water

Take steps to prevent infections that can spread from contact with water. 

  • 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. 
    • In water that may be contaminated with sewage, human or animal feces and urine, or wastewater runoff. 
    • In lakes or rivers after heavy rainfall. 
    • In freshwater streams, canal, and lakes – especially in areas where schistosomiasis is common, such as the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and Asia. 
    • In 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 and check the link to “Stay Healthy and Safe,” where you will find precautions for staying safe around water (under “Stay safe outdoors”). 

 
All of this advice applies to both novice and experienced swimmers, as even strong swimmers can find it difficult to remove themselves from such powerful natural forces as a rip currents/tides. This being the case, it is important that all program participants understand and follow these guidelines while on their Immerse program, whether that program is based in the United States or abroad.