How Dangerous Are Florida Rivers? Discover the State’s 5 Most Perilous

Written by Kristin Hitchcock
Published: August 31, 2023
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Before you swim in any of the rivers in Florida, you may want to look at the state’s drowning rate. It may not be surprising, given how much swimming is done in the state, but Florida does have one of the highest drowning rates in the United States. But how dangerous are Florida rivers, specifically?

Below, we’ll look at the overall drowning rate for the state and which rivers have particularly dangerous features.

Drowning Rates in Florida

As we said previously, Florida has one of the highest drowning rates in the United States. There are an average of 3,733 deaths per year and 2.08 deaths per 100,000 residents in the Sunshine State. This is much higher than the national average of 1.31 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Florida also has one of the warmest climates in the United States year-round. Therefore, it is a popular destination for swimming and other outdoor activities. Florida simply has more people in the water than Maine, which may be why it has a higher drowning rate.

This state also has numerous rivers and lakes. In addition, it features the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. These bodies of water provide plenty of opportunities for drowning. Multiple rivers and ocean areas may have dangerous currents, any tourist may not know where it is safe to swim. Swift water and treacherous features make various water features in the state dangerous.

Florida also has a relatively large elderly population, who are more at risk of drowning. Older adults are more likely to have health problems that may affect their ability to swim, making drowning more likely.

Florida is a popular tourist destination, and many tourists may not be familiar with the dangers of swimming in the state’s waters. This can lead to accidental drownings, especially among children.

Factors that contribute to drowning in Florida include alcohol consumption and drug use, which are very common among tourists in the state.

Most Dangerous Rivers in Florida

1. Suwannee River

Rivers in Florida - Suwannee River

Out of all the rivers in Florida, the Suwannee River is one of the most dangerous.

©Kevin Barry Photography/

The Suwannee River is a 240-mile-long river found in Florida. It is one of the longest rivers in the state, originating in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia and flowing south through Florida. It eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The river sees a lot of visitors because of its length. People flock to the river for swimming, boating, and fishing. Its clear waters make it appear safe. However, the Suwannee River does have strong currents and swift water levels. For this reason, this river has seen multiple drownings. Often, these occur in the spring and summer, when the water levels are the highest.

The river is surprisingly fast-moving, even in shallow areas. There are also many sandbars and submerged objects that can create hazards. The water temperature tends to be pretty cold, even in the summer. Therefore, jumping in can cause the body to freeze up, causing drowning.

There are also many types of wildlife in the area, including alligators and snakes.

2. St. Johns River

St. John’s River, Palatka, Florida

This river is one of the longest in the state and one of the most dangerous in Florida.

©Wayfaring Angel/

The St. Johns River is one of the longest rivers in Florida, at 310 miles long. It flows through the center of the state until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Like many bigger rivers, this one is popular for swimming, boating, and other water activities.

However, it can be dangerous due to its swift water currents and fast-changing water levels. There have been several drownings in the river, often linked to a boat capsizing.

Like many rivers, the St. John River is cold throughout the year. Therefore, it’s important not to jump in, which can cause you to gasp for breath. As you might imagine, gasping while you’re underwater is not a great idea.

The St. Johns River harbors wildlife, including alligators and cottonmouth snakes. While these don’t usually contribute to drowning deaths, they can still be dangerous.

3. Caloosahatchee River

US Highway 41 bridge spanning the Caloosahatchee River from Centennial Park in Fort Myers, Florida

Because of the shallow water and sandbar, this river can be dangerous.

©Gary G. Beeler/

This river is 167 miles long and flows through Southwest Florida. It originates in Lake Okeechobee and flows until it meets the Gulf of Mexico.

The Caloosahatchee River may be a popular destination for swimming and boating, but it can also be dangerous. The water tends to be rather shallow, with many sandbars, so it is easy for boats to find themselves in danger. There have been a number of drownings in the area, often due to changing water conditions and boating accidents.

The river is also known for having particularly strong currents in some areas. However, its clean and shallow nature can make it appear safe. Even if you can touch the bottom, a strong current can still rip you off your feet.

4. Peace River

serene moment on the Peace river in Hardee county Florida

While it is a popular swimming destination, this river can also be dangerous if you aren’t aware of its strong current.

©Marc Pletcher/

The Peace River is another popular river in Florida. It is about 150 miles long and flows through Central Florida. Many people visit this river for fishing and kayaking, but it is also a favorite place to swim.

Like many rivers on this list, the Peace River has a significant current that many people underestimate, especially those new to the area. Sandbars and other objects can be dangerous for boats, too.

Despite this river’s name, it can be a dangerous place to swim, so it’s important to take the proper precautions.

5. Apalachicola River

Apalachicola river

This river is one of the most popular, especially for tourists, but it is very deep.

©Carolyn Davidson Hicks/

The Apalachicola River is pretty popular. It originates from the Apalachicola National Forest, a popular outdoor getaway. The river itself is an ideal destination for tourists who are interested in boating, fishing, and kayaking.

This river is pretty deep, which is why it is dangerous. It’s easy to get swept off by the fast current, so it is important to follow precautions, like swimming with a life vest. You can enjoy this river, but you should do it safely.

Because this is a popular destination, many people mistakenly believe it is safe. However, just like any natural landmark, this river is part of nature and not human-controlled.

How to Stay Safe in Florida’s Rivers

Any river can be dangerous if you don’t follow certain safety precautions. It is important to always stay safe while swimming or partaking in other water activities.

For instance, you should always swim with a buddy. It’s important to have someone there who can help you if you get into trouble – or at least alert the authorities that you are in trouble.

Wear a life jacket whenever you are swimming. This safety tip is the most important thing you can do to prevent drowning.

You should also be aware of your surroundings. Water levels can rise quickly, and the floor can fall away dramatically. It’s important to remember that rivers are natural areas that can change quickly.

Don’t swim in areas not designated for swimming. Often, areas of the rivers that aren’t marked for swimming are that way for a reason. Boat docks and fishing docks can also be dangerous places to swim, as they often aren’t designed for swimming.

You also shouldn’t swim after dark. This makes it harder for you to see your surroundings, and it makes it more challenging for rescuers to find you.

Avoid swimming in rivers after heavy rain, especially heavy rain upstream. Even if it didn’t rain in your swimming area, rainfall upstream can cause water levels to rise downstream.

Remember that several animals, such as alligators, may live in these rivers and pose a threat to swimmers. Always keep an eye out for potentially dangerous wildlife and leave any animals that you see alone.

Summary of the Most Dangerous Rivers in Florida

1Suwannee River
2St. Johns River
3Caloosahatchee River
4Peace River
5Apalachicola River

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Catherine Cornish/

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About the Author

Kristin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering dogs, cats, fish, and other pets. She has been an animal writer for seven years, writing for top publications on everything from chinchilla cancer to the rise of designer dogs. She currently lives in Tennessee with her cat, dogs, and two children. When she isn't writing about pets, she enjoys hiking and crocheting.

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