Safety Training for Remote Aquatic Environments

Pat Hammond

ACA recently attended a meeting of professionals from a broad range of organizations and service providers to address the gap that currently exists in nationally-recognized training for staff who supervise groups in remote aquatic environments. Camps and adventure programs have had to rely on their own training to supplement the currently available pool-based lifeguard training to equip staff who lead backpacking, canoe, and kayak trips where participants are likely to swim.

After several days of meeting, the group (identified on page 8) adopted the following position statement and pledged to continue meeting to work out details on areas such as documented leadership, physical condition of participants in group activities in remote environment, equipment guidelines, training guidelines, and site-specific concerns.
Feedback from camp personnel who administer or lead trips into remote areas is requested.


For the purposes of this meeting, the following definition was developed. A remote aquatic environment is any aquatic environment that is not a designated, appropriately-lifeguarded swimming area or waterfront facility where the risk of drowning, near drowning, injury or other loss is possible. Attributes of remote aquatic environments include, but are not limited to, environments where rescue equipment is not available or must be improvised.

Position Statement

Outdoor leaders, and people in their care, are often exposed to remote aquatic environments that present unique hazards and perils. Fatalities and injuries occur as a result.

There is a lack of broadly accepted guidelines for prevention of and response to drowning, near drowning, and other injuries in remote aquatic environments. The development of guidelines could be expected to enhance the outdoor experience, to raise awareness of the risks, and to reduce the incidence of injury and death.

The guidelines should include appropriate practices and training recommendations that balance safety, practicality, and effective use of resources. They should address a wide range of groups, environments, and activities.

These guidelines should be developed through a process that involves input from recognized aquatic safety organizations, industry associations, and organizations leading trips in remote environments. The process should invite feedback and seek consensus.

The purpose of developing these guidelines is to assist organizations in improving their training and practices regarding water safety in remote environments.

Signed April 24, 2001, Cambridge, MA
Safety Training for Remote Aquatic Environments Committee

Input Needed

The meeting at Harvard, attended by ACA staff members Pat Hammond (Standards) and Cathy Scheder (Professional Development), was the beginning of a collaborative process to gather input and develop guidelines to help fill the gap. We ask camps who do wilderness tripping to provide input/feedback to ensure guidelines that are reasonable and that address our concerns for participant safety on trips.

Eventually, broad guidelines will be established in areas such as:


  • Minimum requirements for number of rescue-trained leaders
  • Pre-requisites for trip leaders
  • Required in-service training
  • Functional capabilities of leaders


  • Medical screening
  • Entry skills required
  • Informed consent from parents of minors
  • Skills assessment


  • What equipment is required under what circumstances
  • Improvising equipment

Training Guidelines

  • Environmental assessment skills
  • Prevention skills
  • Rescue skills
  • Search and recovery

The position statement and a more-complete-but-still-in-development-list of guidelines is posted on ACA’s Web site at Camp directors and staff can send comments to either Pat or Cathy at ACA:, or phone extension 316;, or phone extension 320.

We are interested in gathering data on:

  1. The types of aquatic situations and hazards that camp trips are likely to encounter.
  2. The kinds of rescue equipment people would be readily able to carry with them (such as a throw bag).
  3. The kinds of equipment people carry with them for other purposes that they could improvise to use for rescue purposes in an emergency (e.g., ensolite pad on a rope).

We are also interested in any training resources camps feel are effective in this area.

Feedback can also be provided directly to the committee through Preston Cline’s Web site at We look forward to hearing from you!


Brent Bell, Harvard University

B. Chris Brewster, United States Lifesaving Association, International Lifesaving Federation

Preston Cline, Adventures Incorporated

Phil Costello, Project USE

Will Evans, Markel Insurance

Allyson Krzyzaniak-Geary, The Biking Expedition

Pat Hammond, American Camping Association

John Hendrickson, The American Red Cross

Bill Kane, SOLO

Rick Miller, Hurricane Island Outward Bound

Cathy Scheder, American Camping Association

Noelle Thurlow, Thompson Island Outward Bound

Ben Woodard, Wilderness Medical Associates

Bill Zimmermann, Association of Experiential Education


Originally published in the 2001 Spring issue of The CampLine.