There is no way to guarantee a child will be safe in an aquatic environment. However, there are ways to decrease the risks associated with visiting a pool.
As aquatics managers, we constantly teach our lifeguards how to
respond when someone is in distress, but rarely do we look at what
we can do to prevent the situation from occurring in the first place.
By using a nationally recognized life jacket program, my aquatics
facility cut its number of water rescues drastically and, in turn,
made the center a safer place.
Over the course of nine months (June 2009 to March 2010), our
lifeguards entered the water 17 times. While making these rescues,
the zones they were responsible for were left minimally supervised
and, as a result, put patrons in those areas at risk. Our records
indicate that the patrons who were rescued ranged from age 2 to 69,
with the highest rescue percentage (76 percent) coming from
children under the age of 7 years old.
To decrease these incidents, we adopted a modified version of the
National Note & Float program. Developed at Penn
State University by Dr. Tom Griffiths, the goal of Note & Float
is to “first identify all nonswimmers who enter the facility,
and then ‘float’ those swimmers with an appropriately
sized USCG life jacket.” With the assistance of Dr.
Griffiths, we were able to develop the following modified guidelines.
All non-swimmers under 48 inches tall must wear a USCG-approved
Type III life jacket and remain within arm’s reach of a
supervising adult when in water greater than 24 inches deep.
Swimmers under 48 inches tall have the option to pass a swim test
to opt out of wearing a life jacket. The swim test includes a
25-yard swim (proficient front crawl with rhythmic breathing), jump
into deep water, resurface, and tread water for 1 minute with head
After careful consideration, the center chose to adopt the modified
Note & Float program for aquatic birthday parties only.
Birthday party attendees were chosen as our primary target audience
not only because we host a lot of parties (nearly 700 since June
2009), but also due to the high drowning incident rates associated
with special events.
Since the start of Note & Float, we’ve seen a significant
drop in the number of water rescues at our facility (81 percent of
water rescues came before the introduction of Note & Float).
The program itself has been generally accepted by our patrons, but
as expected, there has been some resistance from party
Typically, situations arise when parties contain mostly swimmers
over 48 inches tall (who do not need to wear a life jacket), but
also have a few nonswimmers under 48 inches (who are required to
wear life jackets). Parents of the smaller, and usually younger,
children feel that we are excluding their children from the rest of
the party by forcing those under 48 inches tall to wear life
jackets and stay near a parent.
Through the controversy, though, an unexpected result has occurred:
Not only has Note & Float made a positive impact on birthday
parties, but it also has increased the popularity of life jackets
among our members. More and more, we’ve seen a lot of parents
bringing their children in life jackets (as opposed to water
wings), or asking to borrow life jackets from our facility.
We can proudly say that by introducing this program to a select
group of patrons, we've improved the overall acceptance of life
jackets throughout the aquatics center.
Adopting a life jacket program is something we think all aquatics
facilities should at least consider. Birthday party attendees were
our target population, but focusing on any high-risk group would be
a good idea.
Starting off small can make a big impact. As you can see from our
experiences, introducing life jackets to a select group of patrons
may produce positive results far beyond the small number of people
you originally set out to reach.