Boy looking out into the distance near a dock

There are no lifeguards on duty at any of our outdoor swimming areas, and Vancouver Parks and Recreation urges all park visitors to be cautious when visiting local rivers and lakes.

Water Safety in Parks

High and swift rivers can easily overwhelm even the strongest swimmer. On hot days, lakes, ponds, and rivers may still be cold and dangerous. Hypothermia can occur quickly in very cold water. Be aware that swimming in open water (lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.) is harder than in a pool and most people tire faster and can therefore get into trouble more quickly. A person can go under water in murky water, making them very hard to find, or be swept away in currents. Avoid swimming where two rivers come together; many good swimmers have gotten into trouble or drowned in currents that didn't appear to be moving that fast on the water's surface.

Water contact areas located along the Columbia River, like Frenchman's Bar Regional Park and Cottonwood Beach are not considered safe for swimming due to strong currents and steep drop offs.

Know Your Limits

There are several things you can do to ensure a safe park experience around water:

  • Never swim alone
  • Make sure an adult supervises with no distractions and watches everyone in the area
  • Children and adults who are not strong swimmers should wear life jackets at all times when they are in the water
  • When boating, don't overload the boat and wear a life jacket that fits. Many people have drowned after falling overboard while fishing.
  • Stay sober when on or in the water
  • Keep in mind that river bottoms are uneven, with sharp drop-offs that can leave someone wading into deep water without warning
  • Boaters should always be aware of their surroundings and keep a safe and legal distance from beach swimming areas, other boats, personal watercraft, and docks
  • Follow the posted park rules for the park you are visiting to ensure safe water access

Be Prepared

Take these steps to ensure the best possible outcomes when visiting a park with water access:

  • Check river or steam conditions by contacting the United States Geological Survey at 253-428-3600 ext. 2635
  • Take life jackets, a rescue device, a cell phone, and someone who knows CPR when you are out on the water
  • Check beach advisories before you go swimming
  • Boaters must obtain their boater education card from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
  • Parents need to tell their children about the dangers of open water at rivers and beaches, and need to know where their children are swimming, who they are with, and when they are expected home
  • Parents are powerful role models; If they wear life jackets, it's more likely their children will too
  • Learn more about water safety and drowning prevention from the Washington State Drowning Prevention Network, children's hospitals and regional medical centers

US Coast Guard Boating and Paddle Safety Course

Do you own or are you thinking of buying a paddle craft to use Parks and Recreation’s 30+ miles of water trails? Consider taking a class with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Paddle craft classes are held once a month, as well as About Boating Safety for power vessel owners.

Some things the 4-hour class will explore are different types of craft, caring for your vessel, how to check weather and conditions, what to pack and how to pack essentials, the US Aids to Navigation system, local hazards, legal requirements and how to handle emergencies.
Cost is $10. If interested please contact Gay Sipes at 360-256-2991.

More information and latest schedule

Parks with Public Water Access

  • Wintler Park
  • Clark County Parks including:
    • Capt. William Clark Park at Cottonwood Beach
    • Frenchman's Bar
    • Klineline Pond at Salmon Creek Park
    • Lewisville Park
    • Moulton Falls Park
    • Vancouver Lake Park

Get more information on water quality at these locations from Clark County Public Health

Additional Caution Regarding Flotation Devices

  1. Flotation devices are not foolproof; they are NOT a substitute for close guardian supervision.
  2. Parents/guardians MUST remain within arms reach of small children using a flotation device.
  3. If you can't swim well enough to be safe in deep water without a flotation device, you aren't safe WITH one either.