Category Archives: Operations

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.

All Stories

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

What is your policy for staff in chemical rooms?

Keeping your pool properly balanced and within federal, state and city codes is an enormous and important task. It’s normally too time consuming to be given to just one person.  If you’re the only one checking chemicals and maintaining pool balance, you likely won’t have time for anything else.  This job needs to be safely and effectively delegated.

Heritage Pk_Aqua Ctr_089_eDepending on your facility, this job is usually delegated to Pool Managers, Head Lifeguards, or Lifeguards. However, Lifeguards and Head Lifeguards aren’t born with the knowledge of what to do around a chemical room, and often the kinds of chemicals they will have to work with go well beyond a normal high school chemistry classroom.  A well-written training manual and chemical room policy can be your best resource for keeping your staff and patrons safe.

Your training manual should cover some of the very basics of what your staff should know. Here are some things to include:

  • List of chemicals they will encounter on the job
  • What each chemical is used for and about how much is usually kept on site
  • Specific safety concerns for each chemical
  • Necessary safety equipment
  • Where to find Safety Data Sheets (formerly MSDS)
  • Where to find emergency information
  • Where to find the chemical handling policy manual

Staff should be trained before ever handling any chemicals.  They should be trained on what chemicals are used at the facility, what the chemicals are used for, how to properly handle them and add them to the pool.  Staff should also know how chemicals need to be stored, and where they can be stored.  For instance, chlorine cannot be stored on the same secondary containment device as muriatic acid.  If the two were to leak at the same time and mix, it would create a costly and dangerous situation.

Once a training manual has been, a chemical room policy reflecting that training should be written as well. Written policies should address chemical handling, safety concerns, disposal standards, and incident reporting procedures.  Staff should also have documented continuous training on those policies.

Items to include in the chemical room policy.

  • Where chemicals should be stored
  • Protocols on adding chemicals to the pools
  • Protocols on how manual chemical additions should be recorded
  • Where to find safety equipment
  • What safety equipment is required and recommended
  • Protocols for safe chemical handling
  • Protocols for emergencies
  • Location of SDS binder

Beyond safety policies, there are also ever-changing health codes (as with the Model Aquatic Health Code), and OSHA guidelines that can affect operations. Organizations should ensure they are complying with OSHA guidelines and have a written hazard communication policy.  This involves educating employees on the hazards they are likely to encounter on the job and precautionary measures they should take.  Most of what will already be found in your training manual and chemical room policy.  Often times an organization is not able to handle all of these aspects on their own.  Hiring a company to review OSHA standards and other applicable codes will help to provide a safe and efficient workplace.

What is the best pool temperature to maintain in my pool?

One of the most common questions we receive from aquatic users and operators is, “What temperature should I keep my indoor pool?”  While that seems like such a simple question, it’s really quite complex depending on who the primary users and what types of programs you are offering at your aquatic facility.  This questions has really transformed indoor aquatics over the past 15 to 20 years as the industry has moved from a single body of water indoors, to multiple bodies of water depending on the needs of the aquatic user groups, competitive, recreational, instructional and wellness and therapy.

Competitive swimming prefers colder water that is typically below 82 degrees, while recreational, instructional and therapy users like it a little warmer, usually 86 or even a little warmer for true therapy purposes (closer to 92 degrees).  So, if you only have one body of water and are serving all of these various user groups the answer is to keep the water at 84 degress so everyone is equally unhappy!  In all seriousness, 84 degrees is the happy medium that is just a little warm for competitive users, and a little chilly for recreation and instructional users, but it’s not too extreme for either and both can function for the time they are in the water.  One piece of advice that I learned during my days as an aquatic operator, you can never please everyone and will always have complaints about water temperature.  This makes it even more important to ensure the water temperature at your facility is always consistent, no matter what that temperature is.  The second that 84 becomes 83 you’ll hear about it from the instructional and therapy users, and when 84 becomes 85 you’ll hear about it from the competitive swimmers.  Do your best to maintain consistency and to educate your users on why you keep the pools at a certain temperature.