Camp Aquatic Safety

Drills are important for aquatic safety at camp. Photo Courtesy Of YMCA Camp Wabansi

Tips For Successful Training

When it comes to staff training, two elements are the most difficult for leadership to overcome—the sheer number of staff to be trained and combating the “boring” factor.

Many facets of counselor training are upbeat and fun. Counselors are taught all of the camp songs, games, and ice-breakers to help build a sense of team … then they head to the pool where they are bombarded with rules and regulations that seemingly stifle any and all fun.

Luckily, there are ways to confront this attitude and atmosphere during training:

Incorporate ice-breakers among camp staff and aquatic personnel. The two teams have to work closely during the camp season and must communicate effectively during emergency situations.

Break into small teams of lifeguards and counselors to practice emergency scenarios. This ensures staff members know their specific roles during an emergency. Whenever possible, avoid doing “mass talk-through training.” The procedures may not be clear, most will be forgotten, and staff members will undoubtedly zone out at some point while you’re talking.

Make it real—and real fun. Try to make scenarios as realistic as possible—use actual gloves, real first-aid supplies, and fake blood and vomit! It may sound crazy, and even a little gross, but it is guaranteed to keep the staff’s attention through the entire training. It also helps staff retain the information and procedures.

It is important to verbally review and physically practice skills as frequently as possible. While aquatic staff should have regular in-services to practice skills, consider inviting all camp staff to review procedures during meetings, or invite them to join lifeguard in-services; or perhaps personnel can be required to have their own skill practice rotations during downtimes.

Constant supervision of staff members is extremely important once camp begins; lifeguards and counselors should feel comfortable calling each other out on poor safety skills and procedures. Staff should be comfortable taking issues to camp and leadership staff as soon as they occur.

Staff members who do not follow safety policies and procedures put lives at risk and must be corrected immediately.

Beware of the safety slip! As many know, staff members become relaxed midway through the camp season, and safety procedures may begin to slip. Be sure to schedule regular “safety reminders” to ensure everyone remains on point with aquatic safety.

Most importantly, all staff members should feel comfortable making a safety call at any time. If a counselor or a lifeguard feels that something isn’t right, the staff member should clear the pool and evaluate the situation. It is up to camp and aquatic leadership to ensure all staff members feel empowered to uphold aquatic safety throughout the season.

Jessica Mieling is the director of aquatics for the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee. Reach her at

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  4. Aquatic Safety Review, Part 2
  5. Aquatic Safety Review, Part 1

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