Challenge Course and Zip Line Safety

February 2016

Recently, serious accidents and fatalities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and other states have prompted government in these and several other states to review and/or discuss how and if zip lines (and challenge courses in some places) are regulated. While many states do not currently have regulations specific to zip lines/challenge courses, there are industry standards as well as American Camp Association standards specific to adventure/challenge activities that provide camps with useful guidelines. Key ACA standards specific to adventure/challenge activities state the following (while there are several other ACA standards that are applicable to adventure/challenge activities, we have listed only those specific to adventure/challenge): If your camp operates a challenge course/zip lines consider the following tips for your 2016 season: 

Staff Training: Invest in appropriate staff training. Yes, the training of staff can be expensive. However, do potential monetary savings really help if you have a serious injury occur because of inappropriately trained staff? 

Trainer qualifications: Who conducts the training of your staff?  Do they have the knowledge and skill to train staff appropriately? Are they currently certified by a recognized organization — such as the Association for Challenge Course Technology or the Professional Ropes Course Association? 

Supervisor knowledge: Is your challenge course supervisor familiar with your type of course? Challenge courses use a variety of “systems” and each one is unique. Being familiar and comfortable with your system is critical

Equipment Maintenance: Is your equipment routinely checked and removed from service if damaged or beyond its “life date?” 

Inspections: Who inspects your course? Is the individual really “qualified?” (See the contextual education in PD.24 definition of qualified personnel).

While meeting ACA standards (or those of the industry) and implementing the above tips are no guarantee of a safe, accident-free season, they provide guidelines to help the camp personnel control critical risks associated with adventure/challenge activities.


Does the camp have written procedures for all program equipment that require:

  • PD.8.1 Equipment is checked on a regular basis for safety, maintained in good repair, and stored in a manner to safeguard effectiveness? YES/NO
  • PD.8.2 Equipment is removed from service if not in good repair? In addition, is equipment that is used for specialized activities (includes adventure/challenge):
  • PD.8.3 Appropriate to the size and ability of the user? 
  • PD.8.4 Safety checked prior to each use? AND, for adventure/challenge course equipment:
  • PD.8.5 Are written records maintained of regular inspection and maintenance of all equipment and elements used?


  • Are adventure/challenge activities under the overall supervision of an adult staff member who meets the following qualifications?
  • PD.13.1 Certification obtained within the past three (3) years from a recognized organization or certifying body for the type of activities offered or documented training AND recent experience leading/ facilitating the type of activities offered? 
  • PD.13.2 Experience—has at least six (6) weeks of experience in a management or supervisory capacity in similar type(s) of program(s) within the past five (5) years?


Do qualified personnel annually inspect course elements for integrity of hardware, materials, and equipment and provide the camp with a written report that includes recommendations for repairs, replacement, and potential closure of an element?

  • The Contextual Education for standard PD.24 further defines: “Qualified personnel” have current and documented experience in construction and evaluation of the type of course they are inspecting and are following authoritative sources and peer accepted practices in construction and inspection. It is the expectation that the recommendations concerning the safety of the course and potential closure of an element will be addressed.
  • Why are these three areas so important?  Most fatalities or serious injuries related to adventure/challenge activities have been attributed to human error (participant or supervisor) or equipment failure.  These ACA standards specifically address those two common causes of serious accidents.


Key Resources (for training, inspection, etc.): 

• American Mountain Guide Association:
• Association for Challenge Course Technology:
• Climbing Wall Association:
• Professional Ropes Course Association: