Off-Site Aquatic Activities


Summer is nearly here! For most of you that means day camp and/or resident camp and the numerous associated activities. Many of these activities are trips to water parks, swimming pools, lakes, beaches, or other water recreation facilities that are operated by others. Although you may not be providing the primary life guarding supervision, you are still absolutely responsible for the safety of your kids.

Before deciding to use an off-site aquatic location you should visit it to assure yourselves that:

  • the site and its environment are child-safe (i.e., not susceptible or appealing to child predators);
  • the site and its activities are age- and skill-level appropriate for the kids you will be taking there;
  • the site's management has implemented the appropriate safety-response mechanisms, e.g.,
  • first aid stations, preferably with oxygen and automated external defibrillators (AEDs);
  • staff trained in first aid, CPR, and preferably oxygen administration and AED usage;
  • appropriate water safety precautions, e.g.,
  • lifeguard training… e.g., current certification and frequent realistic in-service training;
  • lifeguard adequacy… i.e., more than ratios, though they are important; there should be enough guards to thoroughly scan every segment of the water that is being used for aquatic activities every 10 seconds;
  • lifeguard positioning… i.e., close to water's edge, elevated viewing angle, no glare;
  • lifeguard readiness… i.e., appropriate attire, attentive, adequate breaks / rotations; emergency equipment accessibility… e.g., guards have rescue buoy and personal lifesaving equipment with them at all times, a backboard is easily accessible, a 911 telephone or other emergency response call button is present;

As you go, we need to clarify expectations. Know specifically who and exactly how many children are brought, so that all can be returned home. Identify participants with hats, tee shirts, etc. Explain the rules of behavior and parameters of safety to the children, including ramifications of nonconformity. Protect non-swimmers, especially younger children, by restricting them to the shallow end and adding additional layers of protection…
a) The non-swimmer is actively engaged in a swim lesson or activity with staff;
b) The non-swimmer is actively supervised, within arms reach of an adult parent or caregiver; or
c) The non-swimmer is wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket. Establish control before you leave the bus or you will never get it. Provide the kids with a structure for safe fun.

When you are there, the vigilance must continue. These are your kids; this is your program; you are ultimately responsible. If the children's safety is compromised there should be no hesitation in stopping an activity either before it begins or after it has begun. Even if not aquatic professionals, your counselors are still on duty at an off-site water facility. They may not be responsible for the pool deck, but they must remain alert. If safety is negatively impacted by anything that compromises the above standards, they should remove your kids from the water. If any of your kids misbehave, the counselors should not wait for lifeguard intervention… they should enforce your standards of behavior. It takes just one part of tragedy to ruin thousands of parts of fun. Let's keep your kids safe!

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 YMCA risk management issues.


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