illustration by Tariq Kamal

A few summers ago, I arrived at the waterpark early to conduct our morning inspections. Before turning anything on, I performed a visual inspection (per our standard operating procedures). This included a dry walk of all slides as well as an examination of all pools. I felt I had covered nearly every inch of the park.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Though I walked the slide section, I did not actually visually inspect the bowl portion before turning it on. That proved to be a big mistake.

As soon as I turned the slides on, the water in the bowl ride started bubbling up. At first, I couldn’t figure out what was happening, but soon I saw the cause: a box of powdered soap floating in the catch pool. Apparently, it had been thrown into the bowl overnight, perhaps even from outside. The soap had been injected through the ride’s entire circulation system. Before long, the bubbles had risen high enough to reach up 4 feet from the waterline of the catch pool and into the bowl.

Initially, I thought the prank was pretty funny. I even brought a couple of the lifeguards over to have a laugh and take a picture. However, I wasn’t laughing for long. I had never dealt with this problem before, and had absolutely no idea how to fix it.

I soon realized that the only solution was to drain the catch pool. But only one-third to one-half of the pool can be backwashed, and we didn’t have a pump to help remove the water. The general manager also thought I might learn my lesson a little better if some manual labor was involved in the cleaning.

So I had to start pulling the water out myself, using buckets. Keep in mind, this pool held 14,000 gallons of water total, so when I started using the “bucket method,” I was facing 7,000 to 10,000 gallons. Eventually, six or seven of us were on the bucket brigade.

Of course, by this time, the park had already opened for the day — without the bowl ride. Not only was it my job to lead the soap problem fix, but I also had to explain to guests why their favorite ride was unavailable. It took us most of the day to finally get nearly all the water out of the catch pool.

As a result of overlooking one small area of the park, we went a little over budget on operation for the day. We had to pay for approximately 14,000 gallons of water to refill the pool, and a substantial amount of money went toward wages for the employees who came in early or on their day off to help. Not to mention the unhappy guests in the park.

The Lessons

1. Do thorough inspections. They aren’t just something to be checked off. Inspections are your best defense against patron inj-ury and other risk-management issues. Be sure yours are done vigilantly and completely.

2. Know your rides. It’s not enough to simply know where the on/off switch is. Staff members should be familiar with the inner workings of water rides as well and what is required if, say, the catch pool needs to be backwashed. Remember, in an emergency there may not be time to contact your maintenance personnel.

3. Be prepared. With so much equipment, moving parts, and wear and tear, facilities are bound to encounter maintenance issues. The best defense is a good offense, so think proactively, and have the necessary tools and equipment on hand (a sump pump, for instance) to handle emergencies.