ACA Standards . . . the FIRST STEP in Creating a Safer Aquatic Environment

by Will Evans


The ACA standards are the starting place for establishing your camp's standards of care. But achieving a "yes" to all of the standards does not mean that you have covered all of the safety concerns in your camp. The number of specialized activities and situations in camps is multiplying. The recreation industry is changing quickly. Because of these factors, it is essential that camp directors use the ACA standards as a baseline for safety, and then examine your unique issues, concerns, and develop your practices to assure the highest level of safety for your campers. Keep in mind that sometimes the most current practices are found outside of the ACA Standards. Let me comment on several areas of concern from my experience in the aquatics industry and as an insurance inspector.

  1. Consider first the waterfront and lifeguarding standards. The additional mandatories are helpful in emphasizing the tremendous risk in waterfront activities. However, I hope that camp directors in every ACA-Accredited® camp are raising the bar on their waterfront safety by implementing the standards with these practices . . . .
    • Assure that your aquatics supervisor(s) has at least one or more current certifications.
    • Verify that your aquatics supervisor has certifications and training specific to both the body of water and types of activities to be supervised. This must include training in rescues, emergency care and inspection of aquatic equipment used in all of these areas.
    • Assure that your aquatics supervisor has experience in developing and documenting skills testing for other aquatics staff.
    • Provide resources and time for your aquatics supervisor and lifeguard staff to participate in regular in-service training programs in multiple aquatic environments to stay current with the best information and practice in the industry. My recommendation is at least four hours per month of ongoing training.
    • Assure that lifeguarding staff in each specialized area (pool, waterpark, waterfront, boating, lake, river) have certification and experience in that environment and activity. This must include skills training in supervision of the activity and the equipment, rescue, and emergency care.


  2. Let's consider some issues related to emergency care training and equipment.
    • Most people are aware of the new American Red Cross Lifeguard course, but many have not considered how the curriculum changes may impact your camp (see page 9 for specific program changes). For instance, Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) training is now a mandatory part of the CPR training of lifeguards. Does this mean that AEDs are now mandatory equipment at waterfronts and swimming pools? In my opinion, yes. Let's say your camp has a pool and a lake. Do you need an AED at each? There are no specific regulations on this yet, but logically, it depends on how far apart they are located. A two- to three-minute retrieval time would probably be reasonable. A five- to ten-minute retrieval time probably would not.
    • Oxygen therapy is currently an optional course addition to lifeguarding. Considering that the vast majority of drowning situations in camps are a result of respiratory failure, and that approximately 20 percent of all near-drowning recoveries sent to hospitals result in some sort of permanent neurological injury, the addition of this course to your lifeguard training makes sense. Consider the difference 100 percent oxygen might have as opposed to 16 percent oxygen delivered by a pocket mask. Using a bag-valve mask effectively takes practice, not just the knowledge. Refresher training with a bag-valve mask and oxygen should be part of your lifeguards' in-service training. You should also document the in-service training.


  3. These are emerging trends and resources available from other reputable sources that will affect our standards and practices in the future:
    • National Standards for Aquatics Facilities: A group is currently working on developing a new set of standards for safety, risk management, and operations at aquatic facilities. Following the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards setting procedures, ANSI APSP-12 Standard for Safety, Risk Management, and Operations at Aquatic Facilities will address not only pools but also the Class D Natural Bodies of Water. The goal is to create a standard that is specific to safety and risk management that can be utilized by health departments and other agencies when creating bathing codes or SOPs.
    • Scanning Techniques: A number of new philosophies are emerging on how lifeguards should scan for potential problems.
      • In the video "Disappearing Dummies" (available from Aquatic Safety Research Group, or 814-234-0313), lifeguards are shown the importance of scanning a pool from the bottom to the surface due to the disturbance of the surface causing a submerged dummy to actually disappear from sight. This is an important consideration as someone on the bottom is in much more serious danger than someone on the surface. It is also an important reminder to lifeguards that even though the clarity of the water is fine, it is translucent and subject to light diffraction that can cause objects to be difficult to see. This video also brings to light an emerging cause of drowning called Shallow Water Blackout, which results when good swimmers hold their breath too long swimming underwater and as a result pass out. Additional factors that this video reinforces are the use of polarized sunglasses by lifeguards and positioning lifeguards in an elevated position in order to reduce glare.


      • An excellent technique in training new (or apprentice) lifeguards is for an experienced lifeguard to stand beside the trainee and have them verbalize what they see and what they are looking for in the way of swimmer behaviors. This reinforces that the lifeguard must not only look at the swimmers, but also constantly evaluate their abilities and risks. The experienced lifeguard can then evaluate how well the trainee is actually scanning and correct gaps in technique. This training technique works well for both pools and lakes.


    • Zones of Coverage: The size of the area lifeguards must scan, particularly on a lake, has a significant impact on their ability to identify and respond to a drowning. A good rule of thumb to use in determining the zone size to assign to a lifeguard is that it should be no larger than the lifeguard can swim in a twenty-second timeframe. If the lifeguard is using swim fins, that zone might be expanded. If the coverage zone is larger than that, placing an additional guard out in the water in a canoe or on a rescue board would be advisable. Keep in mind that lifeguards in canoes or rescue boards do not have the same height advantage for good visibility that they have in an elevated chair.

Aquatics is an important part of most camp programs. A well-trained and equipped aquatics staff is critical to the safety of your campers and other staff. New ideas, training techniques, and equipment are constantly emerging. We as professionals need to look to a variety of outside resources to verify that our camp policies and standards actually reflect what should be taking place.

I must admit that my recommendations come not just from an awareness of the changes in the industry, but from observations of inadequate practices even in accredited camps. Camp directors, for the safety of your campers and the quality of your camp, raise the bar. Get current on your understanding of practices your aquatic staff should be utilizing from a variety of reputable sources. Begin your corrective actions for this summer. The life you save might be mine.

Originally published in the 2007 Spring issue of The CampLine.