Water Safety – Make it YOUR priority!

Make Water Safety your Priority!  Water is an amazing thing… It soothes us. Its serene, sparkling surface invites us in to enjoy a dip, especially on hot summer days. But its allure can be dangerously deceptive. Calm water can hide strong currents, hidden debris, sudden drop-offs into deeper water, and colder temperatures. Such dangers take many lives each year. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, drowning ranks as the number two killer of its most vulnerable victims — children.

  • Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
  • Always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a life guarded beach, always use the buddy system!
  • Ensure that everyone in the family learns to swim well. Enroll in age-appropriate water orientation and Learn-to-Swim courses.
  • Never leave a child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child; teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
  • Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
  • Establish rules for your family and enforce them without fail. For example, set limits based on each person’s ability, do not let anyone play around drains and suction fittings, and do not allow swimmers to hyperventilate before swimming under water or have breath-holding contests.
  • Even if you do not plan on swimming, be cautious around  including ocean shoreline, rivers and lakes. Cold temperatures, currents and underwater hazards can make a fall into these bodies of water dangerous.
  • If you go boating, wear a life jacket! Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.
  • Avoid alcohol use. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance and coordination; affects swimming and diving skills; and reduces the body’s ability to stay warm.

Water Safety

Maintain Constant Supervision

  • Actively supervise kids whenever around the water—even if lifeguards are present. Do not just drop your kids off at the public pool or leave them at the beach—designate a responsible adult to supervise.
  • Always stay within arm’s reach of young children and avoid distractions when supervising children around water.

Would You Know What to Do? Emergencies can happen anywhere, anytime. In an aquatic emergency, every second counts. Survival depends on quick rescue and immediate care.

How big is the problem?

  • From 2009-2013, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.
  • About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
  • More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments (EDs) require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6% for all unintentional injuries). These non-fatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).

Who is most at risk?

  • Males: Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male
  • Children: Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2013, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, more than 30% died from drowning.  Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in swimming pools. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1-4 than any other cause except congenital anomalies (birth defects). Among those 1-14, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.
  • Minorities: Between 2009 and 2013, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old. The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range. The disparity is most pronounced in swimming pools; African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates .5 times higher than those of whites.  This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites.Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn how to swim, and choosing water-related recreational activities may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates. Available rates are based on population, not on participation. If rates could be determined by actual participation in water-related activities, the disparity in minorities’ drowning rates compared to whites would be much greater.

Vested Interest!

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.


CHILD SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT!  Should a guardian elect to remove or not utilize the life jacket, the child should remain within arm’s reach of the guardian at all times. The guardian will be asked to sign a release and liability waiver explaining the child safety policy and the risks associated with the removal of the personal flotation device.
Children who pass a swim test are issued a green wristband. The child’s name is documented in the facility Child Safety Log signifying that the child is not required to wear a life jacket or be within arm’s reach. Any child listed on the Child Safety Log can be asked to perform a swim test during any visit should a lifeguard deem it necessary.

The CSP was developed to protect the highest risk demographic — young children who cannot swim. We implement the policy at all of our commercial locations, and we have configured it as a contract requirement.

In 1978, an individual could drive down the freeway with no seat belt, an open container of alcohol, and their 4-year-old child riding shotgun. Lawmakers have since studied statistics to recognize these actions as dangerous behavior. Therefore, laws were developed prohibiting drinking and driving, requiring the use of a seat belt for all passengers, and obligating a 4-year-old to be placed in a child safety seat located in the back seat of a vehicle. The experts established regulations to protect society and provide comprehension of the do’s and don’ts when driving a car.

The state of Texas requires children under the age of 13 to wear a life jacket when on a boat. Seems logical — if the child falls into the water, he or she will be safer with a life jacket. Why would we not want to create the same safety benefits at a swimming pool? There seems to be a false sense of security that is generated because the water is clear and objects can be seen at the bottom. It must be safe, isn’t it? Don’t be foolish, a pool is just as dangerous as the largest ocean and has the ability to steal a life in seconds.

It is our duty as aquatics professionals to provide procedures that prevent drowning. We are not here to parent or a guardian we are here to help protect. Children can be elusive and slip away while having a 15-second conversation with a friend at the pool. This doesn’t constitute poor parenting; it only means that we are all susceptible to a kid being a kid. The greater the number of facilities utilizing CSP, the lower the drowning statistic becomes, and ultimately the more lives we save together.

As industry leaders, we cannot wait for federal, state or city laws to make serious changes to the way we operate facilities. We challenge all aquatics professionals to answer the call to action. Join us in creating a new standard for aquatics management.

Jacket Required

Life jacket required.  Over the years, we have experienced a great deal of criticism from guests, and even fellow aquatic managers, for policies requiring life jackets for younger guests.

But despite the flak I’ve taken over this policy, I’ve stuck to it and will continue to do so. I urge all aquatic facilities to adopt similar policies.

After all, children in every state are required to wear seat belts and/or be in car seats at a certain age. In many states, helmets are required when riding a bicycle. These laws are for children’s welfare.

So it goes with our life jacket policy, which states that an adult 18 years or older must be present with a child under 48 inches tall, and that child must wear a life jacket in all water attractions. In other words, a 10-year-old sibling, cannot take a 6-year-old down a slide without a parent. This life jacket policy puts responsibility of the child’s care squarely back on the adult, which allows us to run a aquatic facility and not have to “baby-sit” a single child.

Too harsh? Not when you consider that a life jacket is sometimes the only thing standing between drowning and safety. In fact, I like to think of our life jacket policy as a safety net because mistakes happen, whether from lifeguards or parents.

And because aquatic facilities can get crowded, life jackets make even more sense. For instance, our facility is popular with camp groups, which come from a three-state area. These groups include inner-city youth programs, which bring in children who don’t know how to swim. Indeed, it is not uncommon for our staff to be asked if it is OK for non-swimmers to go down the slides.

Even with all these very good reasons to enforce a life jacket policy, we encounter resistance. Here’s how we have dealt with it at our facility with much success:

Provide free life jackets around the facility (excluding infant life jackets).
Rent infant life jackets, with a full refund upon return
Sell life jackets to those who want them. (You may be surprised how many people choose this option).
Allow guests to bring their own life jackets, as long as they are Coast Guard-approved, and no inflatable of any kind.
Put wristbands on guests under 48 inches tall, which are a different color than the over-48 inch bands so attendants and guards have a visual reminder.
Don’t allow any under- 48-inch children past the 3-foot line in the pool.
Permit infants to ride in a lazy river only if they’re wearing life jackets and are in adults’ laps. And any infant who is held by an adult can partake in any kiddies areas.
Even with these clear policies, we do have a few gray areas we occasionally face concerning children with autism and youngsters with sensory disorders. But these children usually are in constant connection with their caretakers. In those cases, we allow the caretaker to wear the different color wristband. Usually, we also can get the child into a life jacket.

Otherwise, the biggest hurdles we face with the “Under 48 Inch Rule” are parents with children who fight them on the issue. In these cases, we are sometimes called in to be the “bad guys” and enforce the rules, which can be done in a teacher-like way — and most of the time works out. It becomes a bit more difficult with children who are small for their age while their cousins and friends are bigger.

Finally, we have a 1-inch leeway that lets parents make the call whether their children should wear life jackets. This is particularly interesting when the adult wants to pay the under-48-inch price for a child who is clearly over. We allow this, but most of the time the adult comes back for an upgrade to the adult ticket because we require that anyone under 48 inches be accompanied by an adult on all rides and water-features.

For those rare times when the parent and child become inconsolable over our policy, we do not hesitate to offer a rain check or refund. But we do not bend the rules because this is a safety issue. This is our facility’s most serious safety policy, and it is not negotiable. Many times I have said to parents, “In your backyard you can do whatever you want. In my backyard, these are the rules. We have everyone’s children to watch, not just yours. We are operating an aquatic facility and we strive to provide a safe, fun environment and experience.”