Some of the swimming holes on this website may not be suitable for inexperienced swimmers or children, and at different times the risks to even
experienced swimmers can increase dramatically. You can only drown once, so don't take any chances.
If you sense that you are out of your depth, return to where you feel comfortable, even if that means dry land. Many swimming spots are remote from any
medical assistance if you get into trouble.
General Safety Advice
In addition to any specific advice available from local jurisdictions below, remember the following general advice:
- If you drink and dive, you're a bloody idiot. Alcohol and swimming do not mix
. Statistics from the Royal Life Saving Society in my home country of Australia regularly and repeatedly show that alcohol is a major risk factor in drownings. Drink a water or a non-alcoholic beverage, and save the alcohol
until you celebrate getting home safely after a great day in the water.
- Always heed warning signs
. If you see one then it is there for a reason and you could be endangering your health or your life if you ignore them.
- Always check for underwater hazards
. These can include fallen logs or branches, submerged rocks, or any objects that have been dumped or washed into the swimming hole.
- Always enter the water feet first
. Diving head first into unknown waters is dangerous. Wear a pair of sandals or swimming shoes
to protect your feet
if you cannot see the bottom, which will also help to protect against any broken glass that may be in the water.
- Avoid visiting swimming holes alone
. If you visit swimming holes alone, no one is going to rescue you or call emergency services if you get into difficulty in or out of the water.
- Observe any currents
and if necessary, test them by throwing a floating object into the water, such as a leaf or stick. Currents will usually be strongest on the outside of bends in rivers,
and weakest on the inside of the bend. If you are caught in a strong current, it is often better to swim across the current to safety, not against it
Survey the water from the bank beforehand to identify potential exit points downstream of your entry point, before you get into the water.
- Avoid swimming directly under waterfalls
. Any debris flowing over the waterfall could cause injury if it hits you from above. At many larger waterfalls, water turbulence at the base of
the waterfall under cuts the rock face, creating a rock ledge (sometimes submerged and not visible from the surface) and undercurrents that can both push you under the water and jam you underneath
the rock ledge. Over my time documenting swimming holes, several people have drowned as a result of being sucked under large waterfalls.
- Always wait an hour after eating
before swimming to avoid stomach cramps.
- Use a sunscreen
to avoid sunburn and skin cancer.
- Use an insect repellant
, particularly if you are travelling into bush or jungle.
- Do not swim in algal blooms
. The toxins in some blue-green algae have been recognised as a cause of motor neurone disease for several years now, and recent
research has linked these toxins to an increased risk of a range of other brain disorders.
- The amoeba Naegleria fowleri
, which can be found in warm fresh waters throughout the world, is a cause of meningitis encephilitis, particularly
in children and young adults. According to the NSW Department of Health, any water body that seasonally exceeds 30 degrees C or continually exceeds 25 degrees C can support the growth of Naegleria fowleri.
The highest risk occurs when untreated water is squirted up the nose, either through water play or by jumping into water. Children and young adults
have a higher risk of this type of brain infection, because the barrier between the nasal passage and the brain is weaker in children and young adults. Whilst infection is very rare,
the condition is fatal. If you are concerned about this risk, undertake your own independent research (I found the NSW Department of Health fact sheet on the issue the most useful
source of information) and carry a waterproof thermometer with you to get an indication of water temperatures to make your own risk assessment on-site.
- Hot springs
can harbour pathogens that can cause meningitis, so avoid putting your head or any open wounds under the water in hot springs unless the
managing authority advises that the water has been suitably treated.
- Beware of animal hazards
, such as crocodiles, snakes, leeches, ticks, etc. Animal hazards are generally site specific, so heed warning signs and research local swimming safety information
if you are visiting an area where you do not know or understand the local animal hazards. Light coloured clothing is recommended for areas with march flies, mosquitos, ticks or
leeches, so that it is easier to see these animals when they are on your clothing.
- Be extra careful when it rains
. After heavy rain, rivers can swell quickly. Roads can be cutoff and washed away, so if the
weather is wet, take extra care and seek advice from emergency services in your local area.
- Be extra careful during bushfire weather
. Seek advice from emergency services in your local area during days of high fire danger. If you sense any
fire danger, act early and act quickly, as fire can move very fast. Plan alternative exit routes in remote areas before you visit your swimming hole.
- Above all, use your common sense
. Conditions can change rapidly. Continually re-assess the risks and act accordingly, which may include deciding not to swim.
In addition to the above checklist, do your own independent safety planning and risk management before you visit your swimming hole. Current conditions are often published
by the managing authority of each swimming hole.
If you enjoy the swimming holes on this website, do your best to preserve them for others to enjoy, or to come back to yourself, without
introducing additional water quality risks.
- Take your rubbish with you if bins are not provided.
- If there are no toilets and you need to go, dig a hole at least 100 m away from the water and bury whatever you produce.
Local Safety Advice
Here is a list of websites with local or regional swimming safety information that I am aware of. Please refer to this information before heading out. If you notice that a web link
below is broken or the information presented on these websites is out of date, or you are aware of swimming safety advice that is not on this list,
please notify me immediately using the feedback page
undertake your own independent search for updated safety information before heading out.
- Australia (Victoria): Play it safe by the water
- Australia (NSW): Water Safety NSW
- Australia (Queensland): Health and Safety - Water
- Australia (Northern Territory): Be Crocwise
- Fiji: Local water safety advice was not available online from the Fiji Water Safety Council (or elsewhere that I could find) at the time
of preparing this web page.
- New Zealand: Water Safety New Zealand
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