Stay safe in and on the water this summer with tips from the experts

From staff reports

Each summer the Iowa Department of Natural Resources shares safety tips for everyone to keep in mind while visiting the state's lakes, rivers, beaches, quarries and other outdoor spaces, such as campgrounds.

Beach and swimming safety

Whether you're swimming in a pond, lake or public pool, the DNR urges Iowans to keep this information and advice in mind:

  • Iowa’s public beaches do not have lifeguards on duty
  • Drowning is silent. Keep an eye on family members and young children.
  • Keep young children at arm's reach at all times. Never leave small children alone or in the care of another young child while swimming.
  • Use sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid alcohol use while swimming (note that alcohol is prohibited at some public beaches).
  • Glass bottles are prohibited on beaches.
  • In lakes, swim only within the roped-off designated swimming area.
  • Swim with a buddy.
  • Obey posted signs and flags.
  • Take swimming lessons and learn to swim ahead of time. If you can't swim, wear a life jacket or other type of personal flotation device.
  • Learn how to perform CPR.
Enjoy swimming, volleyball, kayaking or paddling during a day at Big Creek Lake in Polk City.

Boating safety

Iowa boaters should adhere to the following safety tips:

  • Wear a life jacket. Any children 12 and under must wear a lifejacket at all times on a boat or vessel in Iowa.
  • Every boat or vessel must have a wearable life jacket for everyone on board; a USCG approved throwable flotation device is also required on vessels 16 feet or longer.
  • Alcohol and boating don’t mix. Wind, sun glare and heat can enhance the effects of alcohol, hindering an operator’s ability to properly navigate and make decisions.
  • The same BAC limit of .08 for driving under the influence applies to boating.
  • Designate an operator that avoids consuming alcohol.
  • Park your vehicles and trailers in designated parking spaces, not in grass areas where they will be ticketed and towed.
  • Make sure there is a charged fire extinguisher on board, as well as a horn/whistle.
  • Slow down and watch for other boaters or personal watercraft.
  • Have patience.
  • Avoid dams and other hazards on waterways.
  • Obey all posted warning signs and rules.
  • Drain plugs and other water draining devices must be removed and/or remain open during transport to avoid the spreading of invasive species.

State parks and campgrounds safety

Iowans who plan to visit a state park or campground should keep the following safety recommendations in mind.

  • Visit during non-peak times, which often include mornings and evenings.
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of fluids.
  • Pack snacks, food, water and personal hygiene products, including hand sanitizer, to bring along for hiking and utilizing the state parks.
  • "Carry In, Carry Out”— pick up any trash and carry out what you carry into the park. 
  • Campers should dispose of trash in receptacles, not burn it in the campfires. 
  • Don’t hike alone and always have a way to communicate if you get lost and need help.
  • Wear proper outdoor attire for hiking.
  • Plan ahead. Staff could close parking lots and limit the number of visitors if it gets too busy. 
  • Do not park in the grass or anywhere that is not a designated parking space.
  • Be respectful of your neighbors camping around you.
  • Slow down on park roadways and obey posted speed limit signs. Families and kids are often walking or biking on the roads.
  • Anyone who plans to fish must have a current fishing license. Licenses can be purchased from the DNR online or from certain local retailers.

Tubing, kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding safety

Keep these pieces of advice in mind the next time you venture out paddling:

  • Always wear a life jacket. Kids 12 and under must wear a life jacket at all times, and the vessel must have enough life jackets for all members on board. 
  • Let others know where you will be paddling, including your planned entry and exit points and what time you plan to return.
  • Avoid sandbar crowds and “rafting” together.
  • Tubers are reminded not to go in groups larger than 10 and not to tie tubes to one another. 
  • Always know your river conditions before you go paddling. For the latest river conditions, visit the USGS. 
  • Check the Iowa DNR’s interactive paddler's map for updates on real-time hazards like downed trees and log jams, strainers and bridge construction.
  • Pay attention to the dam warning signs and know where dams are located before heading out on the water.
  • Find individual water trail maps, including access points

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