View Full Version : Open Water Swimming and The Law

Leonard Jansen
October 22nd, 2004, 02:25 PM
Here in south-central Pennsylvania, there are not many places to do open water swimming. That may seem hard to believe, but most of the rivers/lakes are either on private land or pretty nasty places due to pollution (farm run-off, esp.) The few places that there are to swim are usually in parks and are regulated out the wazoo. (A friend of mine was arrested earlier this year for training out of bounds at one of the state parks.) For those of you who do freshwater training swims, how do you deal with/circumvent the legal issues or do they not apply in your area? I realize that saltwater swimming is a different story, but we are several hours from the nearest saltwater - too far for regular swims.

Or is freshwater training all "Jersey legal" - i.e. legal as long as you don't get caught?


October 22nd, 2004, 07:29 PM
I am not familiar with the 'laws' in the US, however I train, (up in the "Frozen North" ) in a smaller lake for some swims. The bottom of the lake is owned by a company (happens to be a church that operates retreats and week long camps in the summer).
There are several home/cottage owners who also have property affronting the lake. The 'company' owns the bottom of the lake. (which is the low tide mark) Nobody owns the high tide mark. These homeowners have a floating dock which does not require the dock to be secured on the 'bottom', so they can operate boats as well.
There is a small public acess road, where we launch our kayak and residents drive to, and swim. Occasionally, we run into a bit of confrontation by overly zealous "we own this" camp staff who volunteer at the camp. The waterfront at the camp offers waterskiing etc and the boat drivers feel they can drive wherever, regardless of who or what is on the water.
So my support crew and I have stopped the boats on numerous occasions, (when they come way too close) and explain that according to the boat safety courses, which are mandatory to operate a boat, that the craft with the least amount of power has the right of way. They then counter with, 'we own the the lake'. We then remind them, "you own the bottom of the lake and feel free to play down there. I only use the top. I am the least powered craft, and if you harm or interfer with me, or my kayak crew, who are also less powered than you, then you will be charged under the ACT.
Then we continue on, giggling and laughing.
14 years later, the chuckle continues!!
Open water Swimmers win again!!

October 23rd, 2004, 04:35 PM
I wonder this myself, as I get yelled at by lifeguards at the town parks I swim past. One of the guards told me that staties will stop swimmers who are out of bounds - I think that is the legal thing, having to do with swimming allowed in marked areas only - but I have not been stopped. Of course, we are out there pretty early in the morning, before the cops are out; though the friday of July 4th (a busy time at the lake) a zealous cop did follow me around the lake as I swam. I was tempted to ask if he'd mind carrying my snacks if he was going to be there sharing his gas fumes...boy did I swim fast that day, picturing the indignity of being pulled unwillingly into his little motorboat and driven back to my starting point (all the while trying to explain WHY I must get in one more mile, etc).

February 27th, 2005, 01:41 PM

You ever swim at Blue Marsh lake near Reading? It is legal except where restricted near the boat ramps.

The swimming there is ok during the early season, but later in the summer the fecal counts due to the farm runoff jumps up. I swim there on Saturday or Sunday mornings with a couple other people. We swim around the island at beach on the north side of the lake, which is almost 2 miles around. From E-town, you would be around an hour away. The other big problem are the boats & jet skies, but they are not as bad in the early morning. The other option is to go up into the no wake zone, so some people get in the water off of church road off of rt 183 near Bernville.

We will probably begin swimming there in early May, wetsuits oprional.



Leonard Jansen
February 28th, 2005, 10:34 AM
Originally posted by jwcrew99
You ever swim at Blue Marsh lake near Reading? It is legal except where restricted near the boat ramps.
We will probably begin swimming there in early May, wetsuits oprional.

Thanks for the info. No, I haven't been there, but it's now on the to-do list. What is the temp in early May, BTW?


March 1st, 2005, 12:48 PM
Almost all lakes are so polluted where I live that they are unswimable. We used to have beautiful strip mine lakes. However, the federal govenment made stipmining companies full them in. Now we have our "BEAUTIFUL" meadows back and no clean water to swim in. When the strip mine lakes were filled, many fish & other wildlife that had grown dependent on the lakes had a very rough time adjusting (esp. the fish inthe lakes).

When I was in college, friends & I would goto the lakes & swim for hours. Now they are all gone. The landwas to be retruined to farmers, however, most of the land is unused.

October 22nd, 2007, 04:23 AM
(A friend of mine was arrested earlier this year for training out of bounds at one of the state parks.)
Hi Leonard,
What was the outcome of his case?

I'm interested because the NYC Parks department outlaws swimming at Coney Island after the lifeguards leave their stations which is usually 6pm. Park workers in dune buggies then come along and chase anybody that has ventured back into the water away. The protocol is to get out, let them travel about 50 meters and then go back in. They don't look backwards. I suspect they know how assinine they appear, but they have to go through the motions of doing their job.

I am thinking about requesting the City to officially stop this practice anyway. I don't see why Americans ought to tolerate any Government Agency prohibiting people from using the waters off of public shores.

A couple of summers ago, the Parks people also stopped a group of kayakers I was with from playing in the surf off the Rockaways once in a part where the beach that was totally closed. Unlike at Coney Island, they didn't even allow people on the sand. That really ticked me off, and I may consider instigating a lawsuit in the future against them if that policy continues and if it has any chance of success.

October 22nd, 2007, 11:08 AM
at the state parks up here, negotiations took place for years to allow adult (over 18 yrs) to form a club, self insure, regulate and administer a swim test for members, and then swim in an area with a 200yd long buoy line that is outside the range of the lifeguards (some 1/2 mile away). swimming times are restricted to the hours when lifeguards are on duty (elsewhere) and the legal season is short (memorial day to labor day) even though the water temps are still in the 60's.
another lake that requires a larger commitment to access (4 1/2 mile hike or mtn. bike) is frequented by swimmers at certain times of day (those times when it is less frequented by the storm troopers) to date i don't know of anyone being arrested or fined.....perhaps there is an unoffical don't ask/ don't tell policy in effect.


October 22nd, 2007, 11:48 AM

...er, have you seen my backstroke?

Leonard Jansen
October 22nd, 2007, 02:24 PM
Hi Leonard,
What was the outcome of his case?

Little came of it. He has a close relative that is a lawyer and said relative let it be known that this would be taken to court, appealed, and generally be a headache for everyone for several years to come. So, he got an Alice's Restaurant-style "good talking to" and that was it.

I think that the powers that be were worried that it would either set a precedent they didn't want or would result in really ugly requirements like having to have every square inch of the lakefront papered with warning signs and the like.

He hasn't done it again, however. It's just not worth the hassle.


October 23rd, 2007, 11:59 AM

I'm not sure how close you are to Raystown Lake but we spend some time there each summer visiting family. Its huge and there are plenty of places to swim away from boats and lifeguards. The other place in PA that I swim is near York in the Susquehanna. There are about 6 miles of deep water south of the Columbia bridges and north of the dam. The water there this year was unusually clear (lack of rain?). Again, plenty of places away from boats.

Leonard Jansen
October 24th, 2007, 09:32 AM
Thanks. Not too close to Raystown, unfortunately. I'm about 16 miles from Columbia, but I've always been leery of swimming in the Susquehanna due to farm run-off (pesticides, fertilizer, parasites, etc.) But maybe I need to rethink it.