New safety requirements now in place for California wave pools are likely to create new demand for life vests — and may set a precedent for the rest of the industry.
“Having consistent safety standards will help ensure that everyone can enjoy a wave pool,” said bill sponsor Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose). “We know that life vests can save lives, and I am pleased that the industry in California, along with the American Red Cross, embraced my legislation.”
Calif. SB 107 was enacted after a 4-year-old boy drowned in a wave pool at Great America in Santa Clara. It requires that operators provide free United States Coast Guard-approved Type II or Type III life vests to all children under 48 inches tall, nonswimmers and any else who requests one.
All kids under 48 inches must wear life vests while in wave pools, and operators must maintain sufficient lifeguard staffing and sound an alarm 15 seconds before waves start. Wave-generating equipment controls must be easy to access for emergency shut-off, and guards must be positioned so they’re able to reach a patron in distress in 30 seconds or less.
John Robinson, CEO of the Sacramento-based California Attractions and Parks Association was involved in crafting the legislation. “This was the first case of a regulatory bill that we ended up supporting,” he said. “We gathered together nationally recognized experts and were able to work with the senator until we had something we could all agree on. As much as we prefer to keep legislation out, we needed to come up with a bill that made sense.”
In agreement is Judith Sperling, assistant director, risk management training and development for UCLA Recreation in Los Angeles and the legislative chairwoman of the California Park and Recreation Society’s aquatics section. Sperling, who worked on the bill, said the life vest provision “will help to prevent drownings for sure.” But she adds that it won’t completely mitigate the risk. “We need to continue educating parents about the fact that they are the first line of defense; lifeguards are secondary,” she says.
Given California’s position as a leader in consumer protection legislation, experts say SB 107 may become a model for other locales. Indeed, it appears as though that may already be the case. Parks and Recreation Department officials in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, are looking at adopting similar rules following the recent wave-pool drowning death of an 8-year-old girl.