Recreational water and health: Overview

Learn about what recreational bodies of water are, who's responsible for them, and the different types of activities.

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Recreational water areas

Recreational water areas are any natural fresh, marine or estuarine (somewhat salty) bodies of water used for recreational purposes, such as:

They do not include swimming pools, splash parks or other similar facilities.

Recreational water activities

There are 2 types of recreational water activities: primary contact activities and secondary contact activities.
Primary contact activities have a greater risk of people swallowing water. These are activities where you may get your whole body wet, including your head, such as:

Secondary contact activities have a lower risk of people swallowing water. They include:

Depending on the water quality, some recreational water areas may only be suitable for secondary contact activities.


Health Canada develops guidelines for Canadian recreational water quality in partnership with:

These guidelines:

Provincial and territorial governments can use these guidelines to develop their own recommendations.

The federal government also manages recreational water areas on federal lands, such as national parks.

Provincial and territorial governments set the requirements for managed recreational areas in their jurisdictions. These include:

Municipalities oversee the day-to-day operations of managed recreational water areas. This includes:

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