Then it comes to operator certification, aquatics professionals have three main choices:

• NRPA’s Aquatic Facility Operator. A unique aspect of the National Recreation & Park Association’s AFO program is that the certification validity period encourages education in the discipline every three years. The AFO certification exam also is available in Spanish and metric. In 2005, NRPA certified 1,259 students in AFO. The AFO is presented internationally.

• NSPF’s Certified Pool-Spa Operator. The National Swimming Pool Foundation’s CPO program is the most widely recognized one, training and certifying 17,000 pool and spa professionals in 2005. The CPO handbook, exams and MS PowerPoint slides also are available in Spanish. The CPO handbook is in full color and includes the metric system. CPO is presented internationally. Also, it is offered in “fusion” or blended learning format, where about half of the course is conducted online and the other portion with an instructor.

• YMCA of the USA’s Pool Operator on Location. The YMCA is the single largest owner/operator group of swimming pools in the United States. It has a distinct perspective in that it actually has pools that it operates and has learned valuable lessons which are shared in the course content. The YMCA requires participants to complete a 16-page study guide before the class begins. The POOL exam can be given in Spanish as well, and PowerPoint slides are available for instructors.

All of the organizations listed are not-for-profit groups. These bodies are the three most recognized for pool operator training in the nation. The course costs are similar to each certification and range, from approximately $175 to more than $400 per person.

All three programs lead to certification, but have somewhat different qualifications and standards of training. Here is a comprehensive comparison of the programs, highlighting their differences and similarities.