“Camp aquatic safety cannot solely be the responsibility of the lifeguards.” —Teresa Tucker, Consultant for The Redwoods Group 

As leaders in your camp, your presence matters. Given the inherent risks of aquatic programming, conducting walkthroughs of your aquatic areas is critical to making sure everyone is safe in the water. But they go beyond just good practice and formality. If an aquatic event were to happen, you and your leadership would be held responsible for the policies and procedures that were in place at your camp. The child’s parents/guardians will look to you — not just the lifeguards — for an explanation of what went wrong. Therefore, walkthroughs allow you to personally confirm that foundational aquatic practices are consistent with your policies and quickly address any gaps — preventing them from escalating into a serious incident. 

Staff will also quickly learn that safety is a top priority when they consistently see their leadership engaged and present. Whether you are holding staff accountable for your camp’s policies and procedures, or reinforcing their good work, you play a key role in building a strong culture of safety at your camp.

Whether you’re conducting a walkthrough on a pool deck or waterfront, below are a few key things to remember: 

  • Conduct walkthroughs continuously throughout the summer to confirm policies and practices are being followed. This is particularly important as the end of summer nears and complacency may set in.
  • Change the time of day and the programs you visit when you conduct a walkthrough to ensure you’re observing authentic practices.
  • Observe all lifeguards throughout the summer, not just a select few. 

During your walkthrough, if you identify gaps or safety hazards, address them immediately and in the moment. You don't want any second to pass where campers may be unsafe in the water. And, if you see lifeguards that are performing well, praise them. This helps reinforce to staff that they are following the rules and shows that you appreciate their role in promoting a strong culture of safety. 

Top 3 Areas to Address in Walkthroughs 

When walking onto a pool deck or waterfront, there are many things you can look for. Below are our top three recommendations for areas to prioritize: 

1. Rescue-Ready Lifeguards 

Look to see that all lifeguards are prepared and have everything they need to be successful. Some key things you may look for include:  

  • Lifeguards are in a uniform that easily allows them to get wet and make a rescue at any point 
  • Lifeguards have the right equipment — whistle, rescue tube, and personal protective equipment 
  • Lifeguards are protected from the sun (polarized sunglasses, under an umbrella, wearing a hat) 

2. Singularly Focused and Aggressively Scanning 

Look to see that all lifeguards are not distracted by personal or secondary activities and are actively and intentionally investigating their water for any sign of distress. Some key things you may look for include:   

  • Lifeguards are not distracted by anything (phone calls, music, texting, reading, conversations) 
  • Lifeguards are only focused on scanning and not doing any other aquatics-related tasks (swim test, testing chemicals, cleaning the dock, moving lane lines) 
  • Lifeguards are actively scanning the water and paying attention to all campers on and below the water’s surface. When guarding a pool, lifeguards are scanning from the bottom to the top and every corner of their zone.

3. Protecting All Swimmers  

Look to see that all lifeguards are actively accounting for campers and enforcing all non-swimmer protections. Some key things you may look for include:   

  • Lifeguards are implementing buddy checks to ensure all swimmers are accounted for at all times 
  • Lifeguards are taking corrective action if they see swimmers breaking rules or engaging in risky behavior 
  • Lifeguards are consistently enforcing all non-swimmer protection rules. For example, making sure they are confined to shallow water and are protected using a PFD or within arm's reach of an adult. 

To help assist your camp with aquatic walkthroughs, visit the Quick Check Library and download the aquatic or waterfront quick checks.  

By remaining actively engaged and committed to aquatic safety protocols this summer, we can ensure that campers enjoy a fun and safe experience in the water. 

This blog is sponsored by The Redwoods Group — a mission-driven insurance carrier that only insures camps and other youth-serving organizations. Redwoods' model leverages data and insights from its insuring relationships to help customers scale their mission, protect their campers and create safe communities for all.

Periodically, the American Camp Association (ACA) makes timely and relevant information about products and services available to its members so they can make informed decisions for their camps. However, the ACA does not endorse products, services, or companies.