Customer Safety Toolkit: Aquatics

Below is a curated list of our top aquatic safety resources—covering the measures we recommend our customers prioritize and work to implement first. These are, of course, only the beginning to running a safe and effective aquatic program. For more tools, guidance and resources, please visit our aquatic safety resource library.

Test. Mark. Protect. 

Even when non-swimmers are restricted to the shallow end, there is no single, silver bullet  ‘solution’ that will prevent drowning incidents. That’s why we emphasize the need for a robust Test. Mark. Protect. policy.

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When implementing a Test. Mark. Protect. policy, it is important that all three steps are regularly practiced, and consistently implemented as follows:

Swim test to determine swimming ability. Users who do not take the test may be automatically designated as non-swimmers.

Clearly mark all users to identify swimming ability.

Most aquatic incidents happen in shallow water (3′-5′). Therefore, restricting non-swimmers to the shallow end is not enough to protect them. That’s why it’s important to add a layer of protection, meaning the non-swimmer is either:

  1. actively engaged in a swim lesson or activity with staff;
  2. actively supervised, within arms reach of an adult parent or caregiver; and/or
  3. wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket.

Lifeguard Positioning 

It is essential that your lifeguards are properly positioned so they can identify and respond to a potential victim as quickly as possible. The best way to ensure this is to thoroughly test each area of responsibility for visibility and reachability.

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Each area of responsibility should have no blind spots or areas that inhibit the lifeguard’s ability to see, from the top of the water to the bottom of the pool. Here’s how to test each area and equip guards to understand positioning:

Utilize In-Service Training
Utilize in-service time to educate guards on how to properly position themselves, empower them to get involved in the process, and speak up if they are unable to see something in their area of responsibility. We encourage you to do this when people are in the water, as this will replicate the typical pool environment.

Optimize Positioning
Begin the process by placing a lifeguard in an optimal position. An optimal position is generally:

  • At the edge of the pool
  • Where the lifeguard’s back is to the light
  • In an elevated chair. (Lifeguards should never guard from a standard height chair or lower as every inch of elevation reduces the size of blind spots considerably.)

Eliminate Environmental Factors
Once a lifeguard is in an optimal position, have them identify whether or not they are able to see their entire area of responsibility from the top to the bottom. If glare limits a guard’s ability to see an area of their water, we suggest identifying where the glare is coming from. Some different questions to ask in order to eliminate the environmental factors are:

  • Is there something on the pool deck causing the glare?
    • Sometimes objects light in color can cause glare on the pool deck.
  • Are there windows causing glare on the pool deck?
    • Can you purchase blinds or tint the windows in order to eliminate the glare?
  • Would elevating the lifeguard chair eliminate the glare?
    • Before purchasing a new chair, have the lifeguard stand up in their current guard chair to see if elevating the chair would help.

If the above solutions do not work or do not eliminate the glare, consider the following:

  • Adjust the guard’s position until a position can be found for that area of responsibility that eliminates all blind spots
  • Keep the lifeguard’s position the same but reduce the shape or size of the area of responsibility to exclude the area that cannot be seen
  • Add an additional guard to cover that area from a different angle

This process will help to determine how many lifeguards you need to minimally cover your pool(s).

Optimal Areas of Responsibility
Once an optimal position has been selected, test to make sure that the lifeguard can identify and respond to a victim anywhere within the area of responsibility. If it is determined that all areas of responsibility cannot be guarded properly, it is important that your organization reconsiders all positions, staffing and programming. If needed, areas of the pool should be closed.

Lifeguard Positioning Maps
Once all positions have been identified, it is essential to communicate clearly and precisely with lifeguards about exactly where their area of responsibility is. Create positioning maps that show the entirety of the pool and where each area of responsibility begins and ends. Remember, it is best practice to have those overlap to ensure that no area gets missed. After the maps are created, post them in a convenient location for all to see.

In-Service Training

Ongoing training is essential. Not only does it help your lifeguards become better prepared, but it also actively engages them in what it means to be a lifeguard, calling them to action and encouraging a proactive, safety-focused mindset.

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We recommend that every lifeguard receives at least two hours of in-service training every month. Below are some ways to make your in-service trainings effective:

Scheduling & Documentation

  1. Schedule your trainings for the whole year, and communicate agendas to your guards in advance to allow them time to prepare questions/thoughts.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities to attend trainings, so all guards have the chance to participate. Develop a make-up plan for anyone who is unable to attend.
  3. Keep records of the trainings, including attendance and topics covered.

Elements of the Training

  • Team Building: Create intentional team- and community-time for staff, as this gives them the opportunity to socialize and get to know each other. Not only will this build a stronger team, but it will also help staff feel appreciated, know they belong, and understand how they contribute to the organization’s success
  • Skill-Based Training: Create trainings that are realistic. For example, utilize a real-life victim for the first round of CPR, at a minimum. This prepares lifeguards to know what to expect in the real world—and how they might feel—if an aquatic event were to happen.
  • Practice for the Unexpected: During an aquatic event, it is hard to predict exactly what will happen. Therefore, it is critical that during training, lifeguards practice for any possible scenario—whether that’s having multiple victims at once, AEDs not working, or EMTs not showing up fast enough. This will help them to think on their feet and know what backup plans are available to them.
  • Debrief the Training: Debrief all skill-based activities. This allows your staff the opportunity to address any difficulties they had, ask questions about anything they are unsure of, and brainstorm how they can improve next time. Additionally, at the end of each in-service training, ask lifeguards for feedback, including asking them where they can use more support/practice/education. This will allow you to tailor your next in-service training to the needs of your team.

D.R.O.P. Drills

It is extremely important that lifeguards are continuously vigilant and aggressively scanning the water at all times. Administering frequent, unannounced drills at your pool will prepare guards to take action when something ‘doesn’t look right’—whether or not it turns out to be an emergency.

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Implementing a Daily Testing and Remediation Observation Program (D.R.O.P. drills) simulates what a real rescue and emergency response will look like. Below are the steps to take in order to implement an effective D.R.O.P. drill:

  • Get to know your pool. This includes likely blind spots, or problem areas that need additional attention.
  • Identify the device you will use. This can be a silhouette, manikin, or something that you create on your own like a weighted blanket. You can even use a live human, although they will need to be trained on how to realistically and safely act as the victim.
  • Drop the device at the bottom of the pool. Place the device within the lifeguard’s area of responsibility, and without giving the guard any prior knowledge. Alternating the methods of entry, days of the week, and time of day that you administer drills will help to minimize predictability.
  • Track guard’s response. As soon as the device is fully submerged, track the time it takes for the guard to respond to the device and retrieve it from the water. Rehearse a complete rescue scenario.
  • Debrief with the lifeguard. Reflect on what they thought went well, as well as areas that could be improved. This feedback will allow staff to continue to grow in their skills and feel more confident when responding to an event.
  • Document D.R.O.P. drills. This allows you to track staff progress, and helps to identify any areas in need of improvement. If a lifeguard does not meet your organization’s standard for identifying and responding during the drill, they will need training and remediation to ensure they remain vigilant the next time they are in the stand. If they repeatedly fail to meet the standards, then it’s important to reassign them, or terminate their employment.

Sample Tools & Templates

We have compiled a list of sample tools and templates that will assist your organization as you begin to implement a comprehensive aquatic safety program.

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