Are lakes more dangerous than pools for kids to swim in?

Department of Natural Resources officer corporal Eric Sanders, left, and boating safety officer Mark Stephens, right, patrol Lake Lanier on Monday, June 29, 2009.  Curtis Compton /

Department of Natural Resources Cpl. Eric Sanders (left) and Boating Safety Ranger Mark Stephens patrol Lake Lanier. Curtis Compton/

I have a very good friend that won’t let her kids swim in lakes because she says if they ever start to drown you couldn’t find them to save them. She says she’s really bothered by how dark and muddy the water is and feels like it’s a greater drowning threat than pools.

And it does seem like this summer there have been a lot of stories of children and adults drowning or almost drowning in lakes.

For example,  a 24-year-old is in grave condition after being pulled from Lake Lanier on Sunday. She spent 12 minutes submerged underwater!

A 6-year-old boy, the woman’s relative, also had to be rescued. But Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said the boy was resuscitated and taken to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for evaluation.

The woman is in critical condition and the boy is in stable condition, Kimbrell said Monday morning.

Also from this weekend, a man drowned in Robin Lake at Callaway Gardens trying to save a 9-year-old who was floundering.

On June 15, a 29-year-old Gainesville man drowned after diving off a bridge into Lake Lanier.

Also in June, divers found the body of a 24-year-old woman in the waters of Lake Allatoona in Cherokee County.

Three people, the woman and two men, were on a water scooter and they apparently hit a submerged tree stump, according to Summers and Tim Cavender of Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services.

(See you never know what is under the lake water!)

The AJC ran a great story yesterday about the Department of Natural Resource officers who are charged with keeping our state’s lakes safe.  Here’s some highlights from the story:

“Cpl. Eric Sanders and Boating Safety Ranger Mark Stephens are two of the state Department of Natural Resources officers tasked with maintaining safety on the 38,000-acre reservoir.”

“State DNR officers handle law enforcement on all of Georgia’s lakes.”

” ‘There’s about 200 bodies in Lanier that have never been found,’ Stephens said.”

“The complaints that officers dread the most are the 2 a.m. calls about missing persons. Finding a boater lost in the dark in the maze of coves is almost like finding a needle in a haystack.”

This last quote speaks to my friend’s worry that it’s much harder to search for missing or hurt swimmer in a dingy lake than in a clear pool.

The story also had some stats of lake accidents (I think these are for all Georgia lakes, not just Lanier):

  • Watercraft accidents:156, 2008; 50*, 2009
  • Injuries: 107, 2008; 42*, 2009
  • Boating fatalities: 13, 2008; 3*, 2009
  • Drownings: 43, 2008; 16*, 2009
  • Boating under the influence citations: 215, 2008; 78*, 2009
    * — As of June 30, 2009
    Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

What do you think: Are lakes more dangerous for kids to swim in? Does it worry you if they go swimming in lakes? Do you have different rules or watch more closely if you’re going to be in a lake? Or is my friend crazy?

37 comments Add your comment


July 6th, 2009
11:59 pm

I grew up going to the “beach” at Lake Lanier, but now that I’m a mom, the thought of letting my kids swim in a lake is just gross. At least in a pool, you have a filter, along with chlorine or a saline system to keep the water clean. In the ocean, the high salt levels seem to provide some protection from germs. Kids are notorious for swallowing or inhaling a bit of water wherever they swim…with nothing to keep lake water sanitary, it seems like it gives the greatest chance of making a child truly sick.

Plus oceans are clearer than lakes, enabling you to see what you might be swimming next to or walking on top of. Pools always seem to be the safest choice to me.

Lakes just feel murky, dirty, and not like anything I’d want to immerse my body or my child’s body into.


July 7th, 2009
6:44 am

Lakes are absolutely more dangerous, mainly because, as Karia says, they are murkey and you cannot see when someone goes under and is in trouble. When we moved to Lake Lanier our kids were 8 and 6; the rule was they were never to be in the water without a life vest. That rule applied to every kid who ever visited them, too. Sometimes the other kids parents tried to “balk” at the requirement, but we stood firm and said they had two choices: stay on the dock or wear the life vest. Most kids found out that using the vest was actually a pretty good way to play since they did not really have to struggle to stay afloat and could stay in the water longer. Even adults found that using a vest was much easier, too! But, we always stay vigilant whenever we have friends over, ’cause you never know when something could happen!


July 7th, 2009
6:58 am

i am lucky where i live…our lake is so pristine and clear…its almost like the gulf coast water…when i lived in atlanta i never swam in is way too dirty..there are a couple of lakes in my area now that are dirty…my local lake has very strict rules as to the types of water craft allowed and that makes for a much cleaner lake. i swear there are a couple of lakes where my kids always ended up with ear or ut infections if we went swimming there. i hate pools cause i think that all that chlorine cant be good for you….i prefer creeks…we have great creeks here and they are moving water and clear and cold and great…of course you cant really ’swim’ well in a creek but they are great for playing…yall come to western nc and enjoy the beautiful CLEAN water!!!! have a great day!


July 7th, 2009
7:11 am

theresa how is your brother today? and how is his family? are they doing ok…let them know there are prayers from here for them!!!


July 7th, 2009
7:38 am

Hi Theresa, how is your brother doing? I hope all is well and he continues to improve.

On topic, I hate lakes. Won’t get in them. I have friends with boats and I’ll go on the boat, but that’s it. I don’t much care for the ocean, but I will get in if the water is clear and I can see my feet.

But I LOVE a good pool, and will stay in a pool for hours, until my skin is all pruney…….We are headed to PCB next week, and I’ll practically live in the pool. I’ll go down to the beach, becuase the kids love it down there, and I’ll get into the ocean, but like I said, only if I can see my feet. I do get scared in the ocean, of being pulled out to sea by a current.

I would rather be at the pool.


July 7th, 2009
8:10 am

I grew up swimming in Lake Michigan ( Chicago) and then lakes and creeks (relatively clear) in Arkansas.

I also prefer pools. I have no desire to swim in a lake.

We had fun at the beach last week and the water was clear up to our knees…but I really prefer a pool. My sister loves to float in the ocean.

I think ( as everything else) it all depends on what you are used to. In metro Atlanta, there are lots of neighborhood pools and those within walking distance but many areas are not so fortunate.

When we were 15 and 12, my middle sister and I would walk to the creek and swim with our dog….no parents around. I would NOT let my kids do that today…we even saw snakes in the water. I do not even remember seeing a pool in our area in Arkansas.


July 7th, 2009
8:15 am

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being at my aunt and uncle’s lake cabin on Allatoona. We would float on inner tubes off the dock and take the boat out. LOVED IT! I always love going to the lake -just about any lake. I do think it’s important to know which ones are highly polluted, but other than that -HAVE FUN! One of my biggest goals and dreams is to buy some lake property -hopefully with some type of house, even if it’s a fixer upper, in the next few years so our boys can grow up going to the lake and we can all spend countless weekends there. We’re taking our boys (3 and 8 months) camping in August to a state park w/ a lake and beach area. We’ve already been to and and the ocean this summer -and yes, we also love pools and go all the time. Love it all!

I have to give a big eye-roll to the overprotective police. YES, of course lakes are more dangerous than pools! Any body of water is more dangerous than a pool! NO, if a lake is highly polluted, no one should swim in it, and YES, kids should always wear life vests when in a lake or on a boat (not terrible idea for adults either). Soooo many things are dangerous (riding in a car, carnival rides, flying in a plane, climbing trees, roller skating, skate boarding, riding a bike -all of those things can and have in past instances lead to death or serious injury for participants) -but a lot of life is dangerous! Hey, life itself is certain to kill you sooner or later ;-) I get irritated with the caution police though who don’t let their kids do all sorts of things because they “may possibly” get hurt. Compared to how many kids are killed in cars year after year, lakes look pretty safe to me. I DO understand if people just don’t like lakes and swimming in lakes. It’s not me, but if you only like pools, that’s your business and your opinion. I just think parents who flip out about safety issues all the time and don’t let their kids do a number of things are really irritating.


July 7th, 2009
8:41 am


That’s a good rule, and one I had to live with as a child at my aunt and uncles lake house on Sinclair. I hated it at the time but now I understand the need for it.

” ‘There’s about 200 bodies in Lanier that have never been found,’ Stephens said.”

This is disturbing to me…

Yes lakes are more dangerous than pools. But with a little precation and common sense they are fine. I loved learning to water ski and ride the tube while my Dad drove the boat, he drove it like he stole it even with his kids riding the tube :)


July 7th, 2009
8:47 am

I, myself, am not a huge fan of lakes. I remember when I was seven or eight, my dad and I were at the pool at Houston Lake Country Club (in Perry) with a friend of his and his friend’s daughter. The other little girl insisted that we leave the pool and swim in the lake. I remember not wanting to, but the dads convinced me that it would be fun. When I got out, I had two leaches stuck to my feet! I think that I pulled them off and had bloody feet. I was horrified and REALLY haven’t liked lakes ever since.

The other thing that freaks me out about lakes is something that I read about in the news a year or two ago – Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that is found in warm lakes. It enters the body through the nose (so, if you accidentally inhale water through your nose) and attacks the brain. Here is the Wikipedia article: No thanks.

All that said, though, when I have kids, I think that I will let them swim in lakes because I don’t think that living in fear of everything that could go wrong is the way to live. I may not like lakes because of the leach incident, but it certainly didn’t kill me. And the brain-eating amoeba is very uncommon (should that change, though, I would change my stance!). I wouldn’t want my kids to miss out on experiences with family and friends [in a CLEAN lake...where they would wear a life vest!] just because I think that lakes are icky.


July 7th, 2009
9:06 am

JATL… I agree with you on the caution police but here is what I experienced last week:

My sister and I were at the beach…without kids…

Behind us were 2 teenagers about 15 ( facing away from the water and lying on their backs on towels) with hats over their faces. In the water, were 2 kids ( 8 and 10) ***whom they were watching***…..HAHA! The caution police gene kicked in on me as I was the only Mom around who was keeping an eye on these kids in the ocean on a day where the waves were high because of the wind. I was afraid I might have to go out and get these kids, as there is no lifeguard on the beach. I was not relaxing on my beach vacation LOL.

My children are independent children but I have been concerned about putting them in positions where their maturity may not match the scenario. I would not put my 17 year old in charge of kids at the beach ( unless I was coming down in 5 minutes) and people tell me all the time how responsible she is. The beach is a BIG responsibility.

Story wrap up…3 mothers came down ( while the teens were up and applying sunscreen). One held the hand of the girl and walked to the water. Another mother said, “Keep an eye on her….her Dad will kill me if anything happens to her…” I say to my sister, “She is welcome for me keeping an eye on her while the teenagers behind us napped…thank goodness nothing happened.”

Yes, we do have to learn to let go but sometimes we need to look at the scenario! I do agree that some parents never let go.

I read this term last week for overbearing moms: dramamama …I had never heard it before.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

July 7th, 2009
9:47 am

Hey — I haven’t seen my brother yet this morning. My mom is at the hospital with him this morning but she doesn’t have a cell phone — which is annoying! I’m going around noon —

The 200 dead bodies in Lake Lanier is super creepy!!!!


July 7th, 2009
9:59 am

Sorry mjg, “drama mamas” are for the theater set. The word you are looking for is “helicopter” mom. I am not a lake person either. I love pools, when clean. I grew up at the local swimming pool and became a “lifeguard” at 13(you had to be 16, but, because I “lived” at the pool, they let me work in the office in exchange for my pool ticket(at the time was $10 per family for the season – we had 11 kids). I had 2 older sisters and 1 older brother who were also lifeguards. We didn’t have many lakes around us. But we did have a creek that we used to swim/wade in. That was fun. I’m not much of an ocean person either. I love the sound of the waves crashing the beach though. It is fun to just sit and people watch.


July 7th, 2009
10:11 am

I loved swimming in a nearby lake as a kid, but I’m not sure I want my children doing the same. Pollution, dangerous germs like Naegleria, unseen objects and snakes are some of the hazards of swimming in lakes. I don’t want my kids to miss out on fun, but the risks are too great. We’ll just go to the neigborhood pool.


July 7th, 2009
10:28 am

MA…the article I read ( with reference to dramamamas) was about Mamas who cannot let go of their children once they head to Kindergarten ( pick their friend, try to pick their teachers, are in the classroom all the time) …I did not see one reference towards theater in the article…I do know the term helicopter mom but had not heard dramamama. Am I missing something?


July 7th, 2009
11:44 am

I had never heard Drama Mama before. I would say it can be used interchangably with Helicopter Mom, though I think I like Drama Mama better. It’s just more fun to say :)


July 7th, 2009
11:51 am

MJG, I had not read the article so I apologize. I had always heard “helicopter” mom. I am “the” drama mama at my daughter’s school. I am “not” the stage mother from he** but I do help out a lot with the shows they perform. My daughter loves the stage and I do too.


July 7th, 2009
12:39 pm

I never had any problem allowing our child to swim in a lake, but not Lake Lanier due to polution. That lake is just nasty. All the run-off from development, the fertilizer, the waste water treatment plant at the northern part of the lake which dumps treated sewage back into the lake. I don’t understand people who go into that lake.


July 7th, 2009
12:40 pm

Urban dictionary:

drama-mama a person who constantly creates/attracts drama

helicopter mom A hovering & controlling, but well-meaning, parent who gets way too involved in her child’s life to the point of doing things that are completely inappropriate, such as personally attending all of little Sweetiepie’s extracurricular activities, writing medium-sized Sweetiepie’s school application essays, and submitting full-grown Sweetiepie’s job applications.

The two are NOT the same thing.

Well, Photius...

July 7th, 2009
12:55 pm

…where do you get your drinking and bathing water? Unless you live north of Lake Lanier, you, too, drink what you just mentioned! But, hey, thanks for sharing!


July 7th, 2009
1:02 pm

FCM, I work with a helicopter mom..Her daughter just finished her freshman year of college and her son just graduated high school and she still does everything for them..They have a computer at home and both kids have laptops, but she researches everything for them at work..In their senior year of high school, she was still doing projects for them..Not helping, them, actually doing the entire project…

As for the topic today, I would much rather be in a pool..I like to be able to see what is beneath my feet….


July 7th, 2009
1:24 pm

Thank you for clarifying the differences FCM. I am a “drama mama” but not the type to attract/create drama. I just love helping out with the theater stuff at school and in the community.


July 7th, 2009
2:03 pm

There’s a huge difference between a “drama mom” and “drama mama” – we all know the drama mamas: a cold isn’t a cold, it’s swine flu. A kid’s spat isn’t a kid’s spat, it’s World War III. A kid who gets a “C” on a spelling test isn’t spelling challenged, it’s the teacher who hates her . . . etc., etc., etc. Some people need drama in their otherwise boring lives. Other people have quite enough drama without inventing it!

My daughter heard about that figure of 200 unaccounted bodies in Lake Lanier just before she did her first scuba qualification dive up there — she said that the knowledge certainly gave the whole process an extra-creepy fillip! She was wondering, a little anxiously, if they were just floating around down there, somewhere — I assured her that they were probably under several tons of mud at this point :-p


July 7th, 2009
2:24 pm

Katherine, I know what you mean about that amoeba. Back in the early 1960s, it caused an outbreak of amoebic meningitis in Virginia. 3 or 4 kids died of this fairly rare form of meningitis, and after several weeks, it was finally traced back to a small man-made lake, Lake Chester. When they ran the tests, they identified the amoeba in the lake and ended up draining the lake permanently (at the age of 5, I was very annoyed, as it was a favorite watering hole with a cool water slide!) It got a LOT of press at the time, apparently, since I still remember it almost 50 years later.

There’s only been 81 cases documented in the U.S. in the last 50 years, so I’d say that it’s a remote chance, at best. It tends to hang out in lakes that get very warm — Lake Chester was a small man-made lake and tended to heat up. The vast majority of the other incidents have been concentrated in areas that tend to stay hot — Orlando, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, etc. You’re far more likely to pick up a nice dose of giardia, etc. than amoebic meningitis.


July 7th, 2009
2:59 pm

My mantra is “No stress, no drama”. Amazingly, I made that as a New Year’s resolution, and so far so good, no drama……a little stress here and there, but I repeat to myself, no stress, no drama, and I go on about my business.

There was an attempt to suck me into my ex-sister-in-law’s drama, as she thrives on drama, (I think her maiden last name is greek for drama) but I declined……It’s amazing how nice my life as become without any drama…….


July 7th, 2009
2:59 pm

…and you are likely to get stuck via a broken suction pump on the drain at the bottom of a pool, too!


July 7th, 2009
3:27 pm

I wish I knew where it was being shared. Any help is appreciated.

Working with different people from all across the country puts an enormous amount of stress in my life but I remind myself, you get paid to deal with this. I do learn all sorts of things that I would not know staying in GA.

I am off several weeks this summer and things are low key but I am not being paid….haha! That is not the way I can continue to live.


July 7th, 2009
3:40 pm

I think it’s so funny how many people hate lakes but love pools. I’m just the opposite! After growing up with a pool in my backyard and lifeguarding during college, I won’t go near a public pool. All the chemicals gross me out and the hair and used bandaids and other grossness. Blech! I’ve had to close down the pool and fish out one too many turds!! The muddy water in a lake just feels like much more “natural” messiness to me! I know I’m strange, but I cannot handle public pools, water parks, etc. If I can smell the chlorine, I’m staying out! And I only like the ocean if I CAN’T see my feet. I just don’t want to know what I’m swimming with. I realize I’m totally illogical in all this, but I’m ok with that!


July 7th, 2009
4:19 pm

I much rather my 4 year old swim in a pool than in a lake. The thing is, i CAN SEE her underwater in a pool, and can pull her out if need be. I CANNOT SEE her underwater in a lake, and cannot find her to pull her out. If she goes near a lake, she will have to wear a lifejacket.


July 7th, 2009
7:05 pm

Not a big lake fan, although I like the lakeside view or one from the boat, but not to swim. I can’t stand that mucky feeling under my feet. Love the ocean. Growing up and still when visiting with family, we’ve got the best of everything. We go to the beach early in the day, then hit the pool afterwards. Love the summer vacation routine. Never, ever would I allow my son to swim in the ocean unless there was a lifeguard present, though.


July 7th, 2009
7:39 pm

I don’t know about all lakes, but I do think Georgia lakes are far more dangerous than pools. The red clay makes them extra murky (maybe others are clearer? Lake Michigan looked pretty clear when I visited Chicago, but I didn’t look all that closely.). I also wouldn’t let children swim in the ocean off the GA coast. At St. Simons and Jekyll, the water is extremely murky from red clay washed down by the rivers and the rip tides are very strong. I’m from the area and the surest way to spot a tourist family was to see if they swam in the ocean. I regularly sat for at least a dozen families over the years, but never knew local parents who would let their kids go in more than knee-deep, lifeguard present or not.


July 7th, 2009
10:30 pm

HB – do they not use flags on the beach to indicate conditions? If it is too dangerous to swim due to the riptides, etc., do the lifeguards not make everyone get out of the water? I’ve been to many beaches in GA & FL and have not even seen a lifeguard. What’s up with that?


July 7th, 2009
10:45 pm

Fk, lifeguards have been off and on in one stretch with 2 or 3 posts on St. Simons, but definitely more off than on — signs are posting saying swim at own risk. I think there are “no swimming” signs down by the pier, but no rules against swimming above the lighthouse or so. My impression is there’s really no need for the flags because rip tides there are always bad (despite fairly small visible waves), but the sound between St. Simons and Jekyll is the most dangerous spot, I think due to the huge boats that come through that relatively narrow waterway on their way to the Brunswick port. Seriously, the locals don’t do more than splash around a little at the water’s edge. It may be that the reason for no lifeguards is to discourage people from swimming at all.

Jack Harder

July 7th, 2009
11:35 pm

Lakes are no more or less dangerous to swim in than pools.

The main problem is supervision. Drowning is most common in two groups. Small children who fall into water while unsupervised and males between the ages of 15-25.

The problem with children can be solved with constant supervision and swimming in lifeguarded areas.

The teenager/adults are trickier. They are usually in unsupervised (often illegal) areas, consuming alcohol and showing off.

Jack Harder
Director of Aquatic Programs
Connecticut Region
American Red Cross


July 10th, 2009
12:57 am

Thanks Jack for the information.

The lake where we have a cabin is pretty clean as far as lakes go. I don’t want to advertise as it has gotten pretty busy with a lot of ATL folks.

Yes, a lake probably has much more hazards than a swimming pool. BUT, don’t let your guard down at a pool either. With caution and safety precautions in place, you can still have a wonderful time at the lake.


July 10th, 2009
4:38 pm

Two words: Life jacket


July 10th, 2009
5:47 pm

HB – I grew up on the south shore of LI. If it’s beach season, lifeguards are on duty. That’s not to say that we’d let kids go down to the water unsupervised. I just would not supervise kids in the waterside unless there were lifeguards on duty…always a plural…lifeguards. I don’t ever recall hearing of a drowning where lifeguards were on duty and flags were flying.


August 3rd, 2009
6:09 pm

It’s always a tragedy when a child drowns. I’m the pool operator at our local YMCA. I teach and preach safety and all the lifeguards know I’m a “letter-of-the-law” kind of guy when it comes to safety. There is no room for error.

Please watch your children and when your pool is not in use get a safety cover or solid cover for your pool.

As for lakes, if I can’t see, I won’t swim, and that’s final. I won’t allow my children to swim in lakes. Over-protective? Yep. Apologizing? Nope

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