As you head out to enjoy aquatic activities, it’s important to stop and think about safety. It can mean the difference between life and death. Currently, a shortage of trained lifeguards has led to the closing of some aquatic facilities or reducing hours available for public use. The American Red Cross recommends that you swim in a designated swimming area with a lifeguard on duty.
A lot of work goes into planning and managing a safe aquatic facility and lifeguarding operation. The Red Cross has a framework of what you should expect to see at a well-run facility. When visiting an aquatic facility, you should look for three indicators. If any of these indicators is not present, consider speaking with a manager or leaving the facility because it may not be the safest place for you and your family.
1. Supervision of everyone in the water. Are the lifeguards positioned, attentive and ready to respond to emergencies?
The aquatic facility should have lifeguard supervision. If not, clear signage should indicate there are no lifeguards on duty so swim at your own risk.
Lifeguards should be:
- Guarding from designated lifeguard stations such as an elevated lifeguard chair.
- Adequately stationed. Swimming areas are often split into “zones” to allow lifeguards to clearly see all parts of their zone and can quickly respond.
- Attentive, focused and scanning (looking around at the swimming area and patrons with a purpose).
- Free from distractions.
- Lifeguards should not have any reading material or be using digital devices (phones, tablets, headphones) while on duty.
- Lifeguards should not be engaging in conversation with another person.
- Easily identifiable – in a lifeguard uniform/attire equipped and ready to respond.
For guarded and non-lifeguarded facilities such as home pools, a responsible person in your group should be designated as a “water watcher” who constantly supervises anyone in the water at all times until the next person takes over. As a water watcher,
- Know the abilities and limitations of everyone in your group
- Gain knowledge about the area you will be swimming in, including the weather
- Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket around water, but do not rely on life jackets alone.
- In the event of a water emergency, reach or throw something out to the person, don’t go in the water after them.
2. Injury prevention strategies should be in use. Are there warnings, rules and safe strategies being used?
Injury prevention strategies should be in use. Examples of common rules posted and enforced include:
- No diving or headfirst entries in shallow water.
- Swim diapers on pool users without bowel/bladder control.
- No sitting or playing near or with drains or suction fittings.
- No hyperventilation or repeated breath-holding.
- Only properly fitting Coast Guard-approved life jackets may be worn in the water.
Other strategies to prevent injuries include using boundaries to designate different swimming areas such as the use of ropes to separate shallow and deep water, providing properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jackets for use, and conducting swim tests prior to swimming.
3. Water clarity and quality. Is the water clean, clear, odorless and sanitized?
The water should be clean and clear enough to see through to the bottom of the pool/structure (an exception would be swimming areas in natural environments such as lakes). The pool walls and floor should be clean and free from floating debris or algae. The water should also be free of strong odors.
Water Safety Resources
Download the free Red Cross Swim app, sponsored by The ZAC Foundation, for safety tips, kid-friendly videos and activities, take the free Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers online course and check out additional tips and resources to help everyone enjoy the water safely.