Join USA Management in having a vested interest in child water safety.  There is no way to guarantee a child will be safe in an aquatic environment. However, there are ways to decrease the risks associated with visiting a pool.

As aquatics professionals, we constantly teach lifeguards how to respond when someone is in distress, but rarely do we look at what we can do to prevent the situation from occurring in the first place.

By using a nationally recognized life jacket program, aquatics facilities will cut its number of water rescues drastically and, in turn, made recreational centers a safer place.

Over the course of nine months, our lifeguards entered the water 17 times. While making these rescues, the zones they were responsible for were left minimally supervised and, as a result, put patrons in those areas at risk. Our records indicate that the patrons who were rescued ranged from age 2 to 69, with the highest rescue percentage (76 percent) coming from children under the age of 7 years old.

To decrease these incidents, we adopted a modified version of the National Note & Float program. Developed at Penn State University, the goal of Note & Float is to “first identify all nonswimmers who enter the facility, and then ‘float’ those swimmers with an appropriately sized USCG life jacket.”

All non-swimmers under 48 inches tall must wear a USCG-approved Type III life jacket and remain within arm’s reach of a supervising adult when in water greater than 24 inches deep.

Swimmers under 48 inches tall have the option to pass a swim test to opt out of wearing a life jacket. The swim test includes a 25-yard swim (proficient front crawl with rhythmic breathing), jump into deep water, resurface, and tread water for 1 minute with head above water.

After careful consideration, the center chose to adopt the modified Note & Float program for aquatic  parties. Party attendees were chosen as our primary target audience not only because we host a lot of parties (nearly 700), but also due to the high drowning incident rates associated with special events.

Since the start of Note & Float, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of water rescues at our facility (81 percent of water rescues came before the introduction of Note & Float). The program itself has been generally accepted by our patrons, but as expected, there has been some resistance from party participants.

Typically, situations arise when parties contain mostly swimmers over 48 inches tall (who do not need to wear a life jacket), but also have a few nonswimmers under 48 inches (who are required to wear life jackets). Parents of the smaller, and usually younger, children feel that we are excluding their children from the rest of the party by forcing those under 48 inches tall to wear life jackets and stay near a parent.

Through the controversy, though, an unexpected result has occurred: Not only has Note & Float made a positive impact on parties, but it also has increased the popularity of life jackets among our members. More and more, we’ve seen a lot of parents bringing their children in life jackets (as opposed to water wings), or asking to borrow life jackets from the facility.

We can proudly say that by introducing this program to patrons, we’ve improved the overall acceptance of life jackets throughout the aquatics center.

Adopting a life jacket program is something we think all aquatics facilities should consider. Focusing on any high-risk group is a good idea to increase water safety.

Starting this water safety program will make a big impact on safety. As you see from the story above, introducing life jackets to a specific group of patrons produced a positive result far beyond the small number of people they originally set out to reach.

Click here to view the SwimShorts of February 2015