More and more facilities are adopting leisure pools, or multi-purpose pools, whether through new construction or conversion of existing pools. It’s hard to resist such people magnets.
But the very features and crowds that make them so appealing also can complicate lifeguards’ ability to meet benchmarks for scanning, zone coverage, victim recognition and rescue times. Determining the right number and position of lifeguards can present a larger challenge in these pools, even if it’s a standard rectangle with expanded programming.
When taking on a leisure pool, follow these tips for determining the number and position of your lifeguards to achieve the safest outcome.
1. Know the challenges.
The shape, dimension and usage of leisure pools can add up to sight-line difficulties.
One stationary human cannot see around the curves of a lazy river or over tall play and slide structures. These pools also generally have a denser concentration of people — and they’re not performing structured activities such as lap swimming or aqua aerobics but are moving freeform. This tends to shrink lifeguard zones.
Generated current or waves create resistance, making it more difficult for lifeguards to reach potential victims. In wave pools, the guard may have to move a distressed swimmer from the deep area, through the entire pool and to the beach entry.
With all these factors, a leisure pool could need twice as many guards as its lap-pool counterpart. “In a traditional pool that maybe needs two lifeguards, those lifeguards cover 3,000 square feet of a six-lane lap pool,” says Kevin Post, principal/studio director of St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. “That same 3,000 square feet in a leisure pool may need three or four lifeguards.”
2. Plan early and with the right team.
For the sake of safety and budget, operators should start devising preliminary lifeguard plans from the start of a leisure pool’s design. The process should include consultants and lifeguard instructors or supervisors who can predict how plans will translate into real life.
Sometimes ambitious designers may want to fit more features into a space than is practical with your payroll. “That’s where the types of problems come in where suddenly a facility inherits something that they thought was only going to take four or five lifeguards, and suddenly they need nine or 10,” says Jill White, founder of Starfish Aquatics Institute in Lincolnshire, Ill., and author of the Starguard LifeGuard Training Program.
So plans should be analyzed along the way with lifeguards in mind. “If you’re doing that every step of the way, there shouldn’t be any huge surprises,” White says.
This especially becomes crucial for operators changing over from a traditional lap pool to a leisure pool for the first time. Most won’t know all the factors involved, or expect how they can affect staffing, until they have a few under their belt, says Alison Osinski, Ph.D., owner of Aquatic Consulting Services, on Catalina Island, Calif.
But you won’t know for sure how many guards you need until after the pool is built. If you can only afford a fixed number of lifeguards, it’s best to be conservative in the planning stage, Post says. While assessing the plans and estimating the number of guards, add some cushion, in case you need more. For instance, you could plan as if the facility will be fully staffed at all times.
3. Start with general guidelines.
Planning lifeguard coverage can entail an involved process best done with the help of consultants. Each pool has its own challenges and needs, and this task is crucial. So there are no hard-and-fast rules or one-size-fits-all equations.
But some basic guidelines can help provide a starting point. On lazy rivers, for instance, Counsilman-Hunsaker often plans at least one lifeguard on every curve, Post says. On play structures and slide towers, the company puts a minimum of two lifeguards — one per side.
In these areas, guards are needed not only to scan, but also to ensure that people behave safely. “The role becomes more of controlling behaviors and making sure that the users are not doing things that are not allowed on that structure,” says White of play structures in particular. “And then if there are some slides on those structures, being able to control dispatch there as well.”
In the case of manufactured features, some vendors make staffing recommendations for their products. These should be sought out.
4. Know your stationing options.
With the features and boosted activity in a leisure pool, you likely will need more than a couple elevated lifeguard stands for your crew to meet standard.
You’ll probably need to use a combination of stands, both short and tall, along with roving guards who can easily move to see around curves and obstacles, view around high concentrations of swimmers, and interact with visitors to help regulate behavior. “What you see in leisure pools is more active lifeguarding,” Osinski says.
Taller stands allow a wider, deeper vantage, so they often make sense near deep-water spots and in places where the guard needs a broader view. Short stands serve as something of a happy medium, providing enough elevation to see to the bottom of shallower areas, while allowing quicker exit and access to swimmers.
“There’s not one that should be used in all situations,” Post says. “It’s really a combination of all three.”
Once positioned, lifeguards may have to act differently when working around certain features. At lazy rivers, for instance, lifeguards performing a rescue should plan to stay on the deck as long as possible while trying to reach a victim, to avoid fighting the current.
5. Validate the plans in real life.
All the projections in the world do not replace true-to-life trials. For this reason, operators should validate the lifeguard plan after the pool is built and filled.
“Until you actually get out there, you don’t know what the sun is going to do from a reflection and refraction standpoint,” says Joe Stefanyak, director of Orlando-based Jeff Ellis & Associates. “You don’t know what the turbulence in the water is going to do when you fire up that kiddie play structure.”
For this reason, fewer aquatics facilities are built with fixed lifeguard stands. “You see a lot [of stands] that go in after construction, once we determine where the guards are going to be,” he says. “You see the use of portable stands a lot more than you used to, and roving positions now are much more common.”
Perform tests at different times of day to see how glare might affect visibility, and how usage cycles affect rescue times. Once the pool is operational, perform these validations regularly to see how the seasons change the environment. When Stefanyak was an operator, he appointed somebody to do this at least once a week.
Experts from aquatics firms also can be brought in a few times a year, White adds. Some of her clients call in Starfish a few times a year.
Also, empower lifeguards to change strategies if their ability to perform is hampered. Of course, they should notify their manager of the issue as soon as possible.