Swim Guide

An easy way to find, explore and enjoy your local beaches!

The Swim Guide is an app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPod Touch® and Android that makes it easy to find, explore, and enjoy your local beaches!

The app was developed by the innovative people at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and is now managed by Milwaukee Riverkeeper and other member groups of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of 280 water protection groups worldwide.

See the map below to find a beach below and click on a location to see if it’s open for swimming and recreation. You can also download a free app for your phone and find a beach wherever it is you travel!

About Wisconsin Beach Data

Recreational public beaches in Wisconsin are tested May through Labor Day. High priority beaches are sampled at least five times per week. They are flagged when a single sample exceeds 235 E. coli / 100 ml or when the geometric mean of samples collected over a 30-day period exceeds 126 E. coli / 100 ml. Medium priority beaches are sampled at least twice per week. Low priority beaches are sampled at least once per week. They are posted when a single sample exceeds 235 E. coli / 100 ml. All beaches will be closed if E. coli in a single sample exceeds 1,000 / 100 ml.

Where does your beach quality data come from?

Swim Guide pulls together beach posting information from about 90 different monitoring agencies, mostly municipal and state health authorities. We check hotlines and websites on a daily basis to find out which beaches are open and which are posted. If there is a difference between Swim Guide’s beach status and what you see when you are actually at a beach, you should always defer to the local monitoring agency.

How often does the Swim Guide get updated?

Swim Guide is updated as soon as water quality is made available. Where water quality changes every day, we try to update the information before noon so you can make your plans for the day.

What does it mean when a beach is "posted"?

A beach is posted when it fails to meet certain water quality criteria. Beach “postings” are also known as beach “advisories”. The criteria include problems like E. coli levels, cloudiness of the water, recent heavy rainfall, and algae blooms. The criteria differ from province to province and state to state and are more protective in some places than in others. We use the same water quality criteria as the local authority. If we are concerned about water quality, we always err on the side of caution.

Is "posting" a beach different from "closing" a beach?

Yes. A “posted” beach is one where local monitoring authorities believe there is a health risk to swimmers, usually because bacteria levels are too high. A beach may be posted one day and open another because bacteria levels change quickly. Beach “postings” are also known as beach “advisories”. Beach closures are more serious and, in many cases, permanent. You should never touch the water at a closed beach.

What causes beach postings and closures?

E. coli is the most commonly used indicator of water quality health at a freshwater beach. Fecal coliform and Enterococcus are usually the indicators used at saltwater beaches. These bacteria are found in the waste (feces) of most warm-blooded animals, including humans. High levels of bacteria may be found at a beach if there is a nearby sewage treatment plant, combined sewage outfalls (which dump untreated waste into the water before it reaches the treatment plant), stormwater outfalls, agricultural runoff, faulty septic systems, or large populations of waterfowl. Beaches may also be posted for other reasons: turbidity may be high so you can’t see through the water, algae blooms may make the water unsafe, or there may have been a spill, just to cite a few examples.

What are the risks of swimming at a dirty beach?

When bacteria is found at the beach, it is a sign that the water is contaminated with human/animal waste and may contain pathogens (disease-causing organisms), as well as viruses and parasites. If you swim or splash in contaminated waters, pathogens may enter your body through cuts or openings such as your mouth, nose, and ears. The most common effects are minor eye, ear, nose, or throat infections or stomach disorders. You may also develop a rash. More serious diseases and illnesses may also be contracted in heavily polluted waters, including typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and dysentery.

What does the Green/Red/Gray/Yellow swimmer icon on my beach mean?

Every beach is coded based on its current status or its historical status.

Current Status: Green means the beach is open right now. Red means the beach is posted right now. Grey means the status of the beach is unavailable or unreliable. Yellow is reserved for historical status of your beach.

Historical status: Green means the beach is open 95% of the time or more. Yellow means the beach is open 60-95% of the time. Red means the beach is posted 40% of the time or more. Grey means the data is unavailable or unreliable.

Special status: We may manually set the status for a specific beach if we have concerns about the sampling protocol, if there is an emergency, or if monitoring practices have recently changed. The Swim Guide shares the best information we have at the moment you ask for it. Always obey signs posted at the beach or advisories from official government agencies.

What is the difference between historical status, current status and special status?

Current status tells you whether a beach is open or posted right now. It is based on daily data entries.

Historical status tells you whether a beach is usually open or posted, based on historical information in our database. If a beach is not in season, or if it is not being sampled reliably, Swim Guide will display the Historical status instead of the Current status. You can also turn your Android on its side (make sure your screen lock is turned off!) or tap the status button and “Graph” on the iPhone® in order to view historical information for many beaches in our database. Brand new beaches may not yet have enough historical information.

Special status means we have manually set the status for a beach because we do not believe that the information in the database is reliable. This may be because sampling data is missing or because there have been changes at a beach.

You missed a beach!

Thanks for letting us know. Email as much information about this missing beach to reports@theswimguide.org and we’ll add it to Swim Guide.

Why isn't my watershed in your app?

Good question! The answer could be one of two things. It may be that no government agency is monitoring the water quality in your area, so we have no data with which to work.

More likely, it is because Swim Guide is relatively new. We are in the process of expanding and hope to bring Swim Guide to every place that needs it. You can help us get the work done faster by making a donation, becoming a sponsor or doing the work for us.

Where do I get the Swim Guide app for Apple and Android?

Apps for the iPhone can be downloaded through the App Store. If you’re using an Apple device, follow this link: http://bit.ly/SwimGuideApp.

If you’re using an Android device, download the app directly from our website: https://www.theswimguide.org/get-the-app/

Will Swim Guide for iPhone work on my iPad or iPod Touch?

Yes! If you do not have a 3G iPad or access to a wifi connection where you want to use the app, you should load all the information you need before you leave home. (See “Can I use Swim Guide without an internet connection”.)

My mobile device does not locate me properly when I load Swim Guide for the first time.

Swim Guide will only work on your Apple product if you have Location Services turned on, and if you allow Swim Guide to access Location Services. This setting can be found in your general preferences. On your Android device, make sure your GPS is enabled.

Can I use Swim Guide without an Internet connection?

Yes. If you do not have an internet connection where you want to use the app, you should load all the information you need before you leave home. Swim Guide will remember each screen you view while you are connected to the internet and you can revisit each of these screens while you are offline. View the Beach Map and make sure the beaches you are interested in load properly. Tap each beach you may want to look at while you are offline. You can bookmark them for easy access later.

Swim Guide will save all of the screens that you view for offline viewing. If you try to load a screen for the first time without an internet connection, Swim Guide may have problems loading the information. Please be aware that the red/yellow/green beach ratings will not update unless you are connected to the internet. Always defer to beach advisories posted at the beaches.

Can I get Swim Guide for my Blackberry/other smartphone?

Soon. We are working on a smartphone-optimized version of the website.

Can I add new photos to Swim Guide?

Email the images to reports@theswimguide.org, along with a declaration of some kind that confirms you have the rights to the image. If it’s better than our current photo, we’ll add your picture to Swim Guide and give you full credit.

Who paid for Swim Guide?

Swim Guide was paid for with donations from individuals just like you, as well as a grant from the good folks at the RBC Blue Water Project. It takes a lot of work to add more watersheds to Swim Guide and to keep the data up-to-date, so please make a donation or become a sponsor to help keep the project going. Contact reports@theswimguide.org for more information.

Can I become a sponsor of Swim Guide?

Yes! Send an email to reports@theswimguide.org and we will get right back to you. We have a bunch of great sponsorship opportunities, ranging from local beach sponsorships to national and international collaborations.