When temperatures warm, adventure-seekers tend to flock to the water. Whether that means chasing rapids, paddling through the mountains, or floating on a raft, it’s a great way to stay cool and escape the summer heat in Colorado. When it comes to enjoying summer activities on creeks, rivers, streams, and reservoirs in Colorado, water safety is a top priority. Play it safe this summer and adventure smart by following these top 6 water safety tips.

Note: Never assume the water is safe for outdoor recreation. Dangerous conditions may exist. Always check weather and water conditions before you go. High flows, cold temperatures, and strong currents are extremely dangerous and can even be deadly. Use extreme caution when recreating in or around Colorado waterways including creeks, rivers, streams, and reservoirs.

1. Avoid Bad Weather

Lightning strike hits mountain summit. Photo Credit: homie00001 (Flickr).
Lightning hits a mountain summit. Photo Credit: homie00001 (Flickr; file photo).

Always check the weather before you go. Colorado’s weather can change quickly and move fast without warning. This is why it’s so important to be alert when out on the water. Pay close attention to approaching storms in the area including lighting clouds and strong winds. If bad weather starts to roll in, get out of the water and seek shelter immediately. For more tips on surviving a lightning storm, click here.

Bad weather in another location can also cause water concerns miles away. For instance, heavy rainfall may lead to a flash flood situation downstream. Heed flash flood warnings and have a plan to get to high ground prior to when the water starts rising.

2. Check Water Conditions

Photo Credit: Kari (Flickr)

If you’re planning to adventure in one Colorado’s lakes, creeks, streams, or reservoirs, never assume the currents are safe. Always check for the most current conditions to avoid dangerous situations like cold water shock, drowning, and hypothermia, as well as faster currents and flash flooding. Refrain from jumping or cliff-diving in shallow waters. Watch out for hidden dangers, as well, such as brush, fallen trees, rocks, or any other debris flowing in the water. Keep in mind, water conditions vary from year-to-year depending on seasonal snowpack and avalanche activity.

If you’re rafting, utilizing a guide is one safe way navigate the water if you’re unfamiliar with flow levels. That being said, this still does not mean there is no risk.

3. Watch For Local Alerts

Water conditions vary, depending on levels, speeds, and temperatures. For your safety, bans occur when water conditions are considered too dangerous for swimming, tubing, and other water-based activities. Follow the rules and avoid entering Colorado waterways including creeks and rivers when temporary water restrictions are in effect. Violators will be subject to fines. Before you go, know the law and check for current restrictions.

4. Gear Up

Life vest, Photo Credit: PeopleImages (iStock).

No matter what water-based adventure you choose, wearing the right gear is essential to your safety. This includes a properly-sized life jacket, helmets, and thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit. Sudden immersion into cold water causes loss of breathing, muscle numbness, and panic, which can lead to drowning in a matter of seconds. Cold-water shock actually leads to more deaths than hypothermia, which can occur anywhere between 50-60F (10-15C). This is why it’s extremely important to wear thermal protection.

5. Watch Pets Closely

Photo Credit: marekuliasz (iStock).

Keep your furry friends safe this summer. Not all dogs are good swimmers and they should be supervised at all time when in or around any body of water in Colorado. Remember, dangerous waterways and fast flows can sweep both you and dog away.  If you decide to adventure with your four-legged friends this summer, be sure they know how to swim and is wearing a life vest in case of an accident.

6. Tell a Friend

Adventure with a buddy. It’s always a good idea to plan recreational activities with at least one other person. Either way, let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving, and the time you plan to return. Shoot a quick text to a friend or family member before setting off to explore Colorado’s waterways.

Summer waters can be deadly in Colorado. Drowning accidents can happen to anyone, even the most experienced swimmers. Use caution and delay water-based activities when creeks, rivers, and streams are running high and dangerously cold.


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