Tragedy in YMCA pool


Each year, about 1,500 young people drown in the U.S. As we all know, a drowning can occur nearly anywhere. Yet, the natural inclination is to believe that one will not happen in our own community, especially at our own YMCA. Awareness of the threat's reality is critical. Reinforcing proven prevention strategies is an essential element in protecting the kids in our programs. Both are the goals for our “Aquatic Alert” program. Each alert is a brief treatment of the topic, focusing on a real, recent, public event, gleaned from the media…reprinting the published article in its entirety – omitting names and identifying references to the YMCA – and providing a few important teaching points for you to share with your staff. As always, if you need additional guidance on this topic, please call us at 800-463-8546.

Although the following incident does not involve a Redwoods insured YMCA, we want to impress upon you the role each of us plays in providing a safe environment.

“Tragedy in YMCA pool”

SMALL MIDWEST CITY: 10/07/2005 – Earlier this week a 15-year-old boy drowned in the [city] YMCA pool while participating in a high school physical education class. [Victim], a sophomore at [name] high school, was found unresponsive at the bottom of eleven feet of water in the deep end of the pool. Another student and the PE instructor brought him to the surface and onto the pool deck, but their efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Police reports indicate that [victim] was one of 31 students participating in the state-mandated high school water safety class that was regularly held in the YMCA pool. At the time of the incident the pool was divided in half, one for the high school and one for the YMCA. The YMCA portion had one lap-swimmer and two people doing water aerobics guarded by a YMCA lifeguard; evidently another Y-staff person with CPR experience was also on the pool deck. The high school portion had no lifeguard overseeing the activity. According to school reports the instructor has the Red Cross life-guarding certificate that is required by the state.

The investigating police captain said “It was [the] first day in the pool for this particular class and the students had just finished a briefing by the instructor. The students were then allowed in the pool to get used to the water. A short time later the teacher summoned all of the students to the edge of the pool to begin instruction and, at that time, the victim was spotted on the pool bottom.”

This and other area high schools are evaluating their policies and procedures to ensure that they are covering all safety aspects of their water safety programs. In fact, classes have been suspended at [name] high school “not only out of respect for the family, but also because the district has heard from other concerned students and their families” said [name], the school district’s communications specialist. “I don’t know that there are any right answers when something like this happens. We’ve been providing a swimming curriculum for 60-plus years with no other incidents, but now that must be set aside. We need to look at our practices and philosophies and how the swimming classes are carried out.”


  • The facility’s lifeguard’s perceived responsibility for surveillance over the high school programs
  • The details of the agreement between the high school and the organization
  • The length of time the victim was submerged (i.e., the degree of perceived negligence)


  • A lifeguard and an additional CPR trained staff member were on the deck at the time of the incident…however, it does not appear that they were scanning the portion of the pool being used by the high school program or that they participated in the rescue efforts
  • The school district did not provide a lifeguard, but it did require the instructor to be lifeguard certified
  • The instructor-to-student ratio for the course at the time of the incident was 1:31, inadequate for providing effectual supervision for that many students, let alone safety for that many swimmers, especially that many non-swimmers
  • The victim was a non-swimmer who was not evaluated or swim tested…all participants were reportedly considered “non-swimmers”
  • This was the first class of the session, yet the students were in the deep end of the pool after only an initial briefing…the victim was found at the bottom of 11 feet of water
  • The victim was seen on the bottom by a fellow student…the extrication and lifesaving efforts were done by a student and the high school instructor, not the lifeguard


  • Swimming pool safety cannot be delegated to others; we should always guard our own pools
    • Someone who files a law suit will almost certainly name the organization in addition to (and probably primary to) the other entity because of the ownership of the pool thus involving the camp
    • Contractual agreements such as indemnification clause in favor of the YMCA are valuable tools, assuming the other entity has the financial wherewithal (or insurance) to fulfill its obligation
    • Schools and public entities normally have immunity and/or tort caps to provide them with financial protection; their existence may negate contractual agreements so that the YMCA is required to bear all or a disproportionate share of a loss
  • Outside entities or programs using our pools should be operated/overseen as if they were our own…i.e., with, YMCA guards, in order to ensure
    • appropriate lifeguard qualifications and credentials
    • intimate lifeguard knowledge of the pool and its emergency procedures and protocols
    • attentive lifeguard behavior
      • adherence to the10/10 scanning protocol
      • compliance with proper lifeguard-to-swimmer ratios
      • constant supervision and restriction to shallow water for non-swimmers
      • exclusion of personal activities and ancillary duties or chores

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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