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Swimming In Reservoirs Is Illegal

Baltimore County averages between five and 10 drownings and near-drownings each year. Many of these tragedies involve people who decided to cool off in reservoirs or other bodies of water where swimming is illegal.

Laws Regarding Open Water Swimming

Here are the rules regarding open-water swimming:

  • Swimming is illegal in the three Baltimore City-owned reservoirs located in Baltimore County: Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Liberty. "No Swimming" signs are posted at all obvious and some less obvious points of access to the water. The Baltimore Environmental Police patrol the three reservoirs; they have full police powers to patrol and enforce laws on watershed property.
  • Swimming and other water activities, including tubing, are permitted at your own risk in some rivers and streams running through state parks – unless the area is posted, “No Swimming.”

    Most state parks have beaches or waterfront areas designated for swimming; in those parks, swimming is prohibited outside the designated areas. Contact the state park you plan to visit for detailed information about what is allowed.
  • Swimming in private, abandoned quarries constitutes trespassing and is illegal.

Dangers of Open Water Swimming

Reservoirs were never designed for swimming and are unsafe. They are full of hidden rocks, fallen trees and unstable ledges. The depths fluctuate suddenly. Water visibility is poor. Underwater currents can be treacherous.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) officials advise extreme caution even in areas where open water swimming is permitted. Open water swimming poses different risks than pool swimming because of limited visibility, tidal action and fluctuations in water depth and temperature. It is unwise to swim without a lifeguard on duty. Always check the water depth and for hidden rocks before diving.

About Tubing, Canoeing and Kayaking

Tubing - as well as canoeing and kayaking - can be hazardous if you venture onto a stream or river that is moving swiftly or carries you to an area of rapids.

Safe tubing, canoeing and kayaking requires knowing what you're getting into. Map out a route beforehand, and physically inspect it to make sure the waterway is calm. Give a friend or family member a copy of the route so that, if necessary, they can help rescue crews locate you. Know how long it will take to float along your tubing route, so that you do not get caught after dark in an isolated, unfamiliar area.

Adults and children who cannot swim should not participate in tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Fire officials recommend use of a personal flotation device even for those who can swim.

Read additional information about other water safety issues, including pool safety.                                    


Revised May 28, 2019         


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