Category Archives: Operations

Inclement Weather Refund Policy

Weather policies at outdoor aquatic facilities are a critical component of both your safety protocol and your guest service protocol. When developing a weather policy, you want to ensure that you keep the guest’s safety as the key priority, but balance that with service as well. Essentially, there are ways to keep your guests both safe and happy, and the best weather policy is one that balances the two.

Clearing a pool should be immediate upon the first sight of lightning or sound of thunder, and the pool(s) should remain clear for at least 30 minutes after the last strike of lighting or sound of thunder. During this time, your facility staff needs to keep guests and staff clear of the water, trees and other equipment that is conductive and could attract a lightning strike. While this makes sense in theory, in practice it can be more difficult. After all, what do you do with the 200, 500 or 1,000 unhappy guests in your facility who spent money to come and enjoy an afternoon at the pool?

While it can be frustrating to lose revenue due to the unpredictability of the weather, you have to make sure that your guests are taken care of. You also need to be gracious to your guests who had their stay shortened. Providing rain checks (instead of cash refunds) perfectly balances service and business. You don’t lose any revenue, and your guests are typically happy to come and visit your facility on a nicer day.

A typical industry standard is only offering rain checks if operations are suspended for more than 60 minutes, rather than instantly at the onset of inclement weather. This prevents giving out rain checks for a quick 15-minute thunderstorm on the outer edge of your facility. Just be sure to include verbiage in your pool policy so all pool attendees are aware beforehand.

In summary, remember that safety trumps service in the event of severe weather and life safety, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fair and reasonable policy in place to keep your guests satisfied in the event of severe weather.

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How Many Lifeguards Do I Need?

Depending on who you speak with, you’ll likely get a lot of different answers to the question. Operators, administrators, head lifeguards, and the public all have their own idea of how many lifeguards a facility needs. Administrators will want staff costs to be as low as possible, while operators are concerned with mitigating risk and ensuring there is enough staff to make schedules work. Head lifeguards and other staff want to have plenty of bodies to have a relatively stress-free shift, and the public wants to see that there are enough lifeguards to create a safe environment.  The idea is to meet all of these needs with a number of staff that mitigates risk, is fiscally responsible, meets scheduling needs, and creates a safe and healthy environment.

The standard number for you depends on your lifeguard certification program or the state codes you follow. Some states mandate specific patron-to-lifeguard ratios. At Counsilman-Hunsaker, we like to use the general rule of one guard per 1,500 sq. ft. of traditional pool space, and one guard per 800 sq. ft. of free form pool space. This doesn’t provide a specific number, but usually gets an accurate estimate, or at the bare minimum, a decent starting point.

Once you have a starting point, there are other factors that go into deciding how many lifeguards are needed at your facility, such as:

  • Minimum number of lifeguards necessary to perform rescues
  • Regular and peak patron attendance
  • Site attractions and manufacturer recommendations for those attractions
  • Special events or swim meets
  • Blind spots due to pool shape or attractions
  • Other programs or activities
  • Lifeguard “breaks”

It’s generally not recommended to have less than two trained lifeguards on duty at any facility. This usually means one lifeguard on stand, and the other one down. This allows for the lifeguard down to take care of secondary duties, and act as backup in case of an emergency. This number should be increased accordingly to provide safe oversight of the facility and programs.

Activities like swim meets or water aerobics may not necessitate additional lifeguards, as the participants are active swimmers. But programs like swim lessons, dive-in movies, or birthday parties may require additional eyes as there is a larger number of swimmers in the water. While parents should be in the water assisting with safety and participating with their children when programs allow, they also like to see that there are multiple eyes providing a safe environment for their children.

Many attractions also have minimum staffing recommendations for their operation. Most operation and maintenance manuals will address staffing needs. Some require hard line minimums, while others offer suggestions for safe operation.

The final part of the equation is to add as many lifeguards as necessary to create breaks in your rotation. Whether it’s every 30 minutes or every 90 minutes, breaks are an important part of keeping lifeguards vigilant on stand, and is often an aspect missed when planning staffing levels.

Once the standard number of lifeguards is established, the operator should be flexible enough to adjust staffing as needs change. Counsilman-Hunsaker offers facility audit services that can help your facility save staffing costs while ensuring adequate lifeguard coverage of your aquatic facility.

Planning a Special Event? What to Consider

Facility members and special events are two aspects of aquatic centers that are sometimes at odds with each other. Special events can bring in new people, have a positive impact on the community and provide marketing for the facility. However, special events can also disrupt your members and daily users, and act as a drain on resources. It’s necessary to be able to balance the two in a way that will provide the greatest impact with the least stress for members.

Members and daily guests are the lifeblood of any facility. The vast majority of your facility’s revenue should come from these two sources. So if these two user groups start reacting negatively to your facility, you can have a major problem on your hands. Members and guests are also the ones that you typically have daily interactions with. You develop trust and build relationships with them, and they can provide insight into how the facility is doing. They’re more likely to tell their friends about your facility, as they have a vested interest, and want it to succeed almost as much as you do. These user groups are valuable assets for facility managers.

100_6370Special events can leave an impact on your facility in a number of positive ways. Typically, special events are fun and draw outside interest from those who may not frequent your facility. This increased interest can get your name out to the masses in a way normal programming can’t. They can also have positive impacts on your normal programming. Special events tend to have large captive audiences; this is a great opportunity to market your programs like swim lessons, fitness classes, health and safety classes, etc. to a new audience.

However, special events have their own set of challenges. Typically, they won’t be big money makers for your facility. Usually, there are high staff costs for special events to make sure everything runs smoothly, as well as special costs for additional supplies. These can range from relatively inexpensive trinkets and take homes for patrons, to large items like movie screen rentals and licensing fees. Increased costs are usually matched with low price points for admission. Depending on the size of the facility, a full house may still not be enough to break even.

Special events can also be frustrating for members and daily users. Portions of, if not the entire, facility will need to be closed for events. Special events are also typically held during peak hours when the majority of your members would use your facility. This, coupled with larger-than-normal crowds, can be a real turn-off for members and guests.

The key to special events is ensuring there is a balance between accommodating your key users and the special event attendees. Try to plan special events on off hours, or non-peak hours. Hold rentals and events after the facility would normally close or before it would open. Or, try to plan events during times that you see low attendance. It could not only lessen some of the hassle on you, but also provide you with increased attendance at a traditionally low time. Try to emphasize quality over quantity. Members are less likely to be irritated by special events when those distractions are minimized.

Lastly, make sure any special event you schedule is going to bring benefit to your facility. Rentals for swim meets or party rooms typically have minimal staff costs and large profit margins. Special events that bring in a large crowds are great to quickly increase your facility impressions. Make every impression count by creating feel-good moments with events that will have a positive impact on the community.

What is your policy for tubes in and around your facility?

The answer to this questions depends on quite a few factors, including whether guests are permitted to bring their own tubes from home, if they are available for rent or included with admission, and if you have several attractions requiring tubes.

The More the Merrier Approach

For aquatic centers with typical pools, many operators allow guests to bring in their own tubes or flotation devices for pool fun. This reduces expenses when there is no need for the facility to purchase, maintain, inspect, or store them.  The cons to this solution is that if you are more of a waterpark facility, tubes should be approved by your manufacturer to ensure the safety of riders.  Because you have little control over the types, sizes and colors of the tubes, we recommend you do not allow anything other than coast-guard approved flotation devices in your facility.

All-Inclusive Approach

Grand Bear (6)Many medium-sized waterparks provide tubes for their guests included with admission. This approach allows you to control the types of flotation within your facility and ensure that the tubes are maintained and replaced at regular intervals.  This is also helpful when you are operating a continuous river that often reaches capacity.  Requiring guests to leave their tubes in the river can give you an accurate indication of when you reach capacity (i.e. When all the tubes are being used).  Offering tubes only at the attractions where tubes are required (waterslides, river, or wave pools)  also reduces the number of tubes who meet their untimely demise being used as an extra seat on the hot, abrasive concrete deck.  The cons of this approach is that you must purchase, inspect, clean, and maintain the tubes yourself, which will add additional hours to your labor budget in addition to the expense of the tubes.

Rent Your Own Approach

Larger parks often offer a “rent your own tube” option for guests on the day of their admission. The positives to this approach are that guests feel like they can enter the attractions at their leisure without having to search for a coveted double tube or wait on the hot deck for an open river tube to float by.  The tubes are typically numbered with the guest receiving a wristband with the correlating tube number to ensure they do not lose their tube to another guest throughout the day.  The cons of this approach is that guests must haul their tubes to each attraction, you must have additional staff to check-in/out tubes and a process to handle damage to tubes.  A complaint for guests is that they do not like carrying their tubes up to the top of the stairs on attractions.  Some parks have addressed this concern by implementing a “tube valet” service where they place their tubes at the bottom of the tube lift and meet their tube at the top of the attraction. This is often offered as an add-on fee in addition to the tube rental fee.

If you do determine that you will provide tubes in your facility, whether as a part of admission or as a rental option, it is important to develop a tube maintenance program. This should include a log of when each tube was inspected and cleaned, as well as a process for retiring old/damaged tubes.  Documenting the life of the tube assists in making decisions regarding budgeting for replacements, ensuring cleanliness of the tubes, and the ultimate safety of the guests.

How many hours of in-service do you require for lifeguards?

While the requirement for lifeguard in-service varies from state to state, the current industry standard is one hour per week for every lifeguard on your staff, with some flexibility depending on how many hours they work.  Some states and agencies allow one hour for every 40 hours that are worked, but our recommendation has always been to have one hour per week per lifeguard regardless of the number of hours that they work.  This ensures that all of the skills stay fresh in the lifeguard’s mind and they are ready and prepared in the event of an emergency.

Even more important than the number of minutes spent on in-service, is the content of the in-service.  Each in-service should have a variety of content that meets the needs of your lifeguard staff, while still reinforcing the skills that they have already mastered.    While active rescues are typically the easiest skills to master, they still need to be practiced so that lifeguards stay proficient at them.  Below is an example schedule for your in-service, as well as tips for the different categories.

8:00-8:02 Welcome/ready to go

8:02-8:10 Swimming/treading/fitness

8:10-8:20 Guest recognition/rescues

8:20-8:50 Extrication with trauma bag, oxygen, AED

8:50-9:10 Spinal scenarios

9:10-9:20 Conclusion/teambuilding/pool notes

RESCUES: Lifeguards should be rescue ready, holding their slack and entering with a compact rescuejump. Lifeguards should be swimming as fast as they can to the guest in distress and using the appropriate rescue. Staff playing the role of guests in distress should not yell for help, but exhibit signs of an actual active drowning guest.

1) Mouth should alternately sink below and reappear above surface of the water;

2) Arms should extend out and press down on the water (no waving for help);

3) Guests’ body should remain upright with very little kicking;

cprSCENARIOS: Lifeguards should be following the Circulation-Airway-Breathing protocol. Upon extrication, lifeguards immediately put on gloves and check for pulse, starting AR or CPR. Lifeguards should have proper hand placement for opening the airway and chest compressions. All equipment should be out and ready to use. Lifeguards should use current standards for compression to breath ratios.

SPINALS: Lifeguards should maintain in-line stabilization at all times. Lifeguards should be communicating aloud with each other while placing the guest square on the backboard. After placement on the board, lifeguards should strap guest to the board starting with the chest. Once straps are secured, guests should check to ensure they are tight. Lifeguards then ensure stabilization and secure the head chalks and forehead strap. The guest is then ready for extrication.

One other important note pertains to documentation of each in-service.  The following are a list of items that need to be documented.

– Date of training

– Length of training

– Description of training content

– Name of person who conducted training

– Lifeguard signatures on attendance sheet