Natural Water Protection


Protection of a lake, beach, or river swimming area is among the most challenging tasks in the aquatic industry. Proper training is essential to maintaining a safe and enjoyable facility. The following should be reviewed and practiced not only by aquatic staff, but also by any staff that deal with children. The rules apply to any site you use, regardless of location, regardless of ownership… keep your kids safe.

Preventive measures:

Inform staff and participants of the dangers and rules of natural water (i.e., lake, beach, river, etc.)

  • clearly define all the rules of behavior
  • clearly ban all unauthorized water activity
  • explain consequences of any rule breaking
  • define and implement a “buddy system”
  • emphasize that you never leave your buddy
  • if it isn’t safe…don’t swim… fix it or leave!

Utilize natural-water-certified lifeguards and all other eyes you can find. Emphasize the following:

  • use of smaller, more manageable zones
  • clear knowledge of each swimmer’s ability
  • strict rule and consequence enforcement
  • constant swimmer count awareness
  • check the bottom for depth/obstructions
  • understanding of any currents or tides
  • close observation of underwater swimmers
  • everyone watches when kids are in the water

Practice – whether for a single event outing or a regular activity. Don’t be caught unprepared.

  • Buddy system checks…30 second goal
  • Victim checks. Used submerged bucket or equiv.

Reactive measures:

Child is missing who was last seen in or near the open water area:

  • activate Emergency Action Plan…blow whistle, air horn, etc.
  • clear the water of swimmers… gather them together and remove them from the waterfront
  • check the water first! (i.e., do not await verification that the child is truly missing)
    • shallow water check (water up to about chest deep)
  • net search (use an upside-down volleyball net dragged along bottom)
  • keep the net tautly stretched, with the net’s header tape on the bottom
  • walk through the zone swiftly but systematically, overlapping search swathes
    • deep water check (volleyball net method sometimes can be used from a dock)
  • use goggles, mask, and fins; use minimum of 2 people, more if available
  • go down together, systematically covering one end to the other
  • repeat as needed, extending into non-swimming areas
  • concurrently (or after the water search if no additional staff is available) check other areas for the missing child (bathrooms, cabins, play areas, boating area, etc.)

Child has disappeared underwater (someone has seen child go under and not come back up)

  • activate Emergency Action Plan…blow whistle, air horn; radio or phone EMS (if needed), etc.
  • swim to where the child was last seen…someone on shore guides the rescuer to the area… remember, for every foot of water depth, the child could be 2 feet from where s/he went under
  • deep-water rescue… attempt save, get assistance from others with mask and fins.

Explore New Technology

After this article was first published, new technology has become available that can both assist lifeguards in detecting and finding drowning swimmer in a natural water environment. Although Redwoods does not endorse any product, we will make you aware of products that we believe can improve safety in your facility.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at to learn more about camp risk management issues.


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