Today a wide variety of aquatic attractions are available, with the most common being play structures, water slides, lazy rivers, activity pools and wave pools. All have great advantages, but they do require care and maintenance. Operating these attractions takes competent, well-trained staff, but most importantly, qualified, experienced management.

The Basics

Play structures generally have a large crowd capacity and offer a variety of features to attract all ages. They have a relatively small footprint and don’t require much water. There’s a lot happening on a play structure and this attraction can require minimal labor if installed as a wet deck with no standing water.

Water slides are another staple at most water recreation environments. Available in all shapes and sizes — from tame kid’s slides to behemoth thrill rides with strict height/weight requirements — the key is having slides that appeal to a wide range of ages. This includes family water slides, where a group can ride together.  These are popular with waterpark patrons and proving well worth the larger expense.

It’s a safe bet that everyone loves a lazy river. In some cases, the attraction is not so lazy and includes waves or other action features. Lazy rivers can accommodate a wide range of users, but they require a large footprint, lots of water, and relatively more lifeguards and labor, compared with other traditionally shaped pools or water slides. Lazy rivers also require inner tubes and managing the extra tubes might necessitate staging areas.

Activity pools and toddler pools can attract a range of guests and generally include popular interactive elements such as sprays and lily pads. Inflatable or floatable activities in pools are great fun for guests, but be aware they can be expensive to maintain and can become overloaded with too many kids trying to play on them at the same time. Lifeguards must maintain control and make sure there is space around floating interactive features. Wave pools are perhaps the most visually stunning recreation amenity. They attract large crowds and are terrific for all ages, given their zero-depth entry design. Operationally, these pools require utmost vigilance by lifeguards. Small children and weak or non-swimmers can migrate into deeper parts of the pool, so parents should always be within arm’s reach and guards need to spend extra time monitoring the area where the waves break. Additionally, care must be taken in deciding whether to allow tubes in the wave pool. Many operators use clear tubes.

Do’s and Don’ts

Operating and maintaining aquatic attractions properly will give your guests many years of enjoyment and can be a great investment.

  • DO provide amenity-specific training for operations and maintenance. This is particularly important with water slides. The person dispatching on the ride needs to know the restrictions for riders, the proper riding position and any warnings they need to provide to users. Providing a red light/green light system for dispatching can help the attendant know when the next rider can slide. Dispatching on larger rides takes more effort and care. Weight needs to be balanced and, in some cases, the attendant has to move large, heavy rafts from a conveyor belt system.
  • DO involve the operations team in the design of a new amenity. This can help minimize a number of issues that otherwise could arise later.
  • DON’T sacrifice lines of sight for design. Careful consideration of lifeguards’ lines of sight is extremely important. Often designers add landscaping and theming, blocking the view for lifeguards or limiting their ability to roam, which creates an additional labor demand. Operators need to establish a functional system starting from the earliest design phase.
  • DO establish rules and protocols for monitoring children in pools. These pools are attractive to kids of all ages, but also can have deeper water, so it’s important that children are monitored closely. Your staff should make sure there’s a parent with all children in pools, and those who aren’t good swimmers should be required to wear a life jacket. n DO keep spare parts on hand and develop a daily inspection routine for all amenities.


When it comes to aquatic recreation amenities, maintenance varies depending on the attraction. Play structures generally include a small body of water, and treating the water quality requires the same careful monitoring as in other larger pools. Also, due to the spray from various elements there’s a lot of evaporation and carry-out, so water replacement is a daily need, as is regular inspection and repairs on the many small interactive features.

Water slides are relatively easy to maintain, but don’t let the lack of moving parts fool you into thinking they don’t need daily attention. Just as you’d wash and wax your car, all water slides need to be cleaned and waxed on a regular basis to protect their surfaces. And when a seam needs to be caulked, do it right. Many people just patch the leak rather than recaulk the whole seam the right way. Pumps also need attention — it’s important to inspect the system to make sure it is flowing at the right rate because this affects the performance of the ride.

With wave pools, the wave mechanisms usually are air-driven, so maintaining the turbines and pneumatics per manufacturer’s instructions can prevent a breakdown in the middle of a busy summer. Also, with the zero-depth entry design, there’s a lot of wear and tear on the pool surface, making it important to watch for problems and make repairs as soon as possible. Wave pools’ large size means their water chemistry can be stable, but they also have very high bather loads, so free chlorine and pH should be monitored often.

Facilities have great variety in the types of attractions, and many provide entertainment for hours because guests usually can spend as much time as they’d like. They are generally interactive in nature and provide enjoyment for all ages.

About the Instructor

Franceen Gonzales is vice president of risk management at Great Wolf Resorts, based in Madison, Wis. Her focus is building the leadership team, coordinating design for new waterparks and directing operations protocols and risk management programs. Gonzales has been in the amusement, waterpark and hospitality industries the past 23 years. She is a past chairwoman of the World Waterpark Association’s Board of Directors.