Cottage Q&A: Is cliff jumping safe?

Man preparing to cliff jump into the lake Photo by Alex from the Rock/Shutterstock

My kids want to go cliff jumping at the cottage, but I’m reluctant to allow them. I’m concerned about them getting injured. Am I being overly cautious?—Abbott Jin Young, Georgian Bay, Ont.

No, you’re not, says Barbara Byers of the Lifesaving Society. Cliff jumping is inherently risky. Of course, the same can be said about lots of activities. “Crossing the street is inherently risky,” says Byers. “But it’s easier to mitigate that risk. You look both ways.”

With cliff jumping? Not nearly as simple. It can be difficult for the jumper to control how or where they land in the water. Even expert high divers mess that up. The higher the height, the trickier this becomes—and the harder the jumper will hit the water. A jumper doesn’t need to collide with an object in order to get hurt, Byers points out. “If you enter the water the wrong way…it can be like hitting a cement wall.”

Going cliff jumping? Read this first

Injury-wise, this might only result in a few bruises. On the other hand, it might also result in a compression fracture, a muscle or skeletal injury, a concussion, or broken bones. Or drowning. Sometimes jumpers just never surface, says Byers. The shock alone of hitting the water can cause muscle spasms. “The pain is so intense that the person gasps and swallows water. People say, ‘Oh, I’ve been jumping off this cliff my whole life, and I’ve always been fine.’ But I say, ‘Well, it’s because you’ve been lucky.’ ” 

Hey, kids, we get it. Barbara Byers gets it. “I understand the appeal of cliff jumping,” she says. “It looks like great fun. But I have too much knowledge to ever even consider it. I’m not sure that there is a safe way to cliff jump.”

So, you can’t make it safe, but you can at least try to make it less unsafe: investigate the water for hazards—not once, at the beginning of the summer, but every time you jump—and always go feet-first. 

Or, jump off the dock instead. It’s not nearly as exhilarating, but you’ll still get some decent pictures for the ’Gram. Cannonball!

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This article was originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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