Category Archives: Operations


Enforcement, while sometimes not a fun aspect of being an aquatics professional, plays a key role in the overall safety and quality of any aquatic facility operation.  Several key areas exist for enforcement, primarily facility rules, policies and procedures. And, ensuring that enforcement occurs fairly and consistently can make or break the perception of your operation by your guests.  Proper enforcement of rules and policies will make your operation safer and more guest friendly.  While guests may not agree with every rule or policy in place, they will hopefully come to appreciate the “why” behind them and how they ultimately provide an atmosphere of safety and service at your facility.

The key areas of enforcement deal with making sure guests follow the facility’s rules created to keep them safe.  For rules and policies to keep your guests safe, they must be prominently displayed and consistently enforced by your team at the entrance to you park, as well as including them on all of your promotional literature.  DSC00884Aquatic facility staff need to be on the lookout for guests running, children wearing unapproved floatation devices, parents not staying within arm’s reach of their children and guests horseplaying in the water where the safety of them and the guests around them becomes compromised.  Guest services team members need to diligently check guest coolers and bags at your park’s entrance to make sure they aren’t bringing glass items, weapons or knives into the facility.

Weight and height restrictions on waterslides and how to enforce it top the list of hot topics in the aquatics industry these days.  Proactivity and consistency in informing guests of the restrictions before they get on a ride are the keys to success.  Facility staff should make announcements while guests wait in line, prominently display signage, requirements and rules at the entry to the ride, and install measuring sticks and scales to accurately measure and weigh guests.  If your park does install scales for use, they should not display the actual weight of your guests, instead using a red or green light to indicate whether they fall within the weight requirements for the ride. Using this three step process will improve the communication and enforcement of these restrictions with your guests, providing a better overall experience for everyone.

Enforcing the capacity in pools and on attractions also proves challenging for aquatic operators as they must maintain proper count of the number of guests in the park and at each attraction.  OpeBaytown (4)rators should carefully read all literature accompanying their attractions, as most have limits for the number of guests that can each attraction can hold at any given time, both on the ride itself, as well as the stairs leading up to the ride.  Park team members should be properly trained on capacity limits for each ride, as well as the facility as a whole, and have a plan in place in order to monitor the number of guests that have entered the park at any time.  Keeping track of capacity limits of your park, rides and attractions plays a major role in keeping your guests safe on a daily basis.

Enforcement won’t be the most glorious part of your aquatic operation, but it’s one of the most important areas for you and your staff to concentrate in order to ensure the safety of your guests on a daily basis.

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Day Camps

Traditionally, day camps have chosen to visit waterparks or aquatic facilities for their field trips.  The additional lifeguard supervision and stress that result from day camp visits are not typically worth the revenue generated.  Building your own day camp program, hosted at your facility, is a different story.  After the initial work of creating the programs, procedures and initial marketing push, maintaining the day camp is well worth the extra revenue and positive community image it generates.

Use Your Unique Layout

Each facility has its own layout that can provide opportunities for unique activities and camp themes.  1Waterpark layouts can allow the campers to participate in fun activities in catch pools or rivers before the park opens to the public, provide lunch for the participants, and formulate the activities around the facility mascot.  Traditional aquatics programs have the opportunity to center the camp around water safety and swim lessons and typically have more access to inside classroom space (if it is attached to a community center). To begin, examine the eagle’s eye layout of your facility and find the perfect camp headquarters location for your program.


Find Your Niche

Day camp opportunities are abundant.  Parents need somewhere to send their children while they work during the summer.  Safety, convenience, and the child’s opinion are the biggest factors in selecting a day camp.  Spend some time researching the competition in your area and make note of the types of camps they are providing, the price, and what areas they are targeting.  Next, using your facilities unique attributes, develop a program that will set you apart from your competition.

While you may not be able to undercut them on price, demonstrating that your 2have a lower counselor to camper supervision ratio, offer flexible pickup times, or have a changing theme each week can help parents justify spending more of their hard earned dollars on your program.  Once you identify your niche, be sure to communicate your benefits in marketing materials and staff communication when describing your day camp program.




Make it Fun!

Aquatics facilities are fun on their own, but spending every single day of the summer in the same location can make the children antsy and bored. Centering the camp around a fun weekly theme keeps the campers engaged and excited to return each week.  When selecting themes, research what the children are excited about, which can be a result of a recent movie or television show.  Timeless themes such as pirates, dinosaurs, science exploration are always popular options.  Many parents select the weeks they register their children from camp based on the theme, so choose wisely!  Though it requires quite a bit of pre-planning, all activities, crafts and games should support the weekly theme.  Towards the end of the week, begin to drop hints about some of the next week’s activities, which will encourage the campers to ask their parents to register them for another week!

Make it Safe

Taking charge of children all day requires patience and a great deal of training.  Create policies and procedures that will protect the children and your staff from unsafe situations.  Start by identifying potential hazards at your facility, restroom and changing policies, and discipline procedures.  Clearly outline these policies for the parents in a handbook so they understand and agree to the policies before registering for the camp.  Look for ways to minimize risk, such as scheduling the swim lesson portion at the beginning of the day so the children come dressed for swimming are only changing in or out of their suits once during the day instead of twice.  Train your camp counselors to always follow pickup procedures, how to respond to basic medical emergencies (food allergies, bee stings, vomit), how to correct behavior, and how to facilitate activities.  The way your staff interact with the children is something the campers will always remember and what they share with their parents at the end of the day.


Increase Your Bottom Line

You will generate additional revenue through camp registrations, but the largest increase to your bottom line will be through add-on options for day camps.  Since convenience is one of the biggest selling point for parents, offering weekly lunch options, early drop-off/late pick-up, and other programming add-ons assist the parent in making your camp the easy choice.  Select add-on options that will require a low cost or staff commitment, but is valuable to the parent. For example, if your facility has a concessions area, offering daily lunch just means making a few extra hamburgers or chicken nuggets.  To ultimately increase your bottom line, your goal should be to offer a safe, fun program that children will beg their parents to register them for at a competitive price.


Coaching and Counseling Staff

In an ideal world, inspiring staff through our positive attitude and exemplary work ethic would be enough to teach them how to be outstanding employees, however, this is not reality.  Staff will make mistakes, choose not to work hard, and fail on multiple occasions.  Coaching and counseling staff does not take the place of discipline when it is clear the employee has a blatant disregard for their work, but rather serves as a tool to improve employee performance for the majority of well-meaning staff.  How you approach them at the moment of failure sets the tone for that teachable moment.

While discipline such as a lecture, scheduling for undesirable shifts, or a reduction in hours may feel like justice for the discipliner, it does very little to improve the relationship with the employee and only teaches them that you are the enemy and they must try harder to hide their failures in the future.  Your reaction to their mistake is the first indicator to your employee whether or not you are there to teach or to punish.  When approaching an employee to discuss an issue, keep your tone of voice pleasant and professional.  Depending on the gravity of the situation, select an approach that will allow you to keep the employee listening and attentive, but aware that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.


When using the self-discovery approach, the idea is to ask the employee questions to walk them through the process of answering their question or rectifying the problem themselves.  While this approach requires practice to master, it can be extremely helpful with staff who lack confidence in their decision-making skills and ask you question after question, even when they know the correct answer.


EXAMPLE: Your cashier asks you again what time you are closing that day

JANE: What time do we close today?

YOU: Jane, where do we keep information related to our programs and operations?

JANE: Maybe in our brochure?

YOU:  Where are our brochures located?

JANE:  Behind the counter in the drawer.

YOU:  Great! Looks like you answered your own question!


This was a very simple interaction, while situations involving customers can be much more complex and contain details that the employee needs to work through with additional questions.  The most important part of any coaching approach, but especially Self-Discovery, is that your tone remains friendly, patient, and not condescending.


The perception approach is based on the idea that the employee is unaware of the consequences or appearance of their actions.  Explain to the employee what their behavior or actions look like as their supervisor and what it can appear as to a customer.  This is often combined with the Self-Discovery approach to assist the employee in being able to reach the same conclusion on their own in the future.


EXAMPLE: You approach an employee who is leaning against the lifeguard stand or river fencing

YOU:  Good Morning Jimmy, do not take your eyes off the water, how is it going today?

JIMMY:  (straightens posture) Going good, just watching my water.

YOU:  I noticed when I walked up that you were leaning on the river fencing.  I understand that this particular station can be tiring, however, what kind of message do you think that sends to me as your supervisor?

JIMMY:  I don’t know, probably that I don’t care.

YOU:  Exactly.  And while I know that you enjoy your job, it is important that the customers also understand that you enjoy your job and take it seriously. If you had children in the river and saw a lifeguard leaning, what might you think?

JIMMY:  That they were tired or didn’t care or weren’t paying attention.

YOU:  You got it!  Thank you Jimmy!



Self-discipline is a skill that many staff learn with their first real job. Many times, they are not fully aware of the responsibility they hold while lifeguarding.  Failing to show up for a shift, goofing off during their shift, or missing work entirely can have fatal consequences for others and giving staff the tools to instill self-discipline can help them immensely.  This approach can be used when the staff member is well-intentioned but just does not seem to be “getting it.”


EXAMPLE:  Jimmy is consistently late because he is searching for his uniform at home.

YOU:  Jimmy, good morning!

JIMMY: Hi, sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my uniform this morning.

YOU:  I think you have mentioned that before.  I also struggle getting out the door in the morning.  I have     found that putting all the items I need for the next day by my front door makes it much easier and then I don’t forget things as often.


While some staff may not appreciate or benefit from this type of coaching, many appreciate the guidance.



Direct feedback is the most common way supervisors approach their staff. Let’s use the same situation with Jimmy leaning on the river fencing, but use a Direct Feedback approach.

YOU:  Jimmy, stop leaning on the river post.

JIMMY:  Okay (straightens posture)

The likelihood of Jimmy leaning against the post in the future is pretty high, assuming you are not around to watch his every move.  Let’s be honest, who has time for that?  Direct Feedback should be reserved for when there is an immediate danger that needs to be remedied.  For example, Direct feedback would be appropriate if there was a lifeguard who abandoned their post to get a drink of water.  Once the scene is safe, follow up with your staff member using another approach to turn it into a teachable moment. While the Direct Feedback approach requires the least amount of forethought and effort initially, in the long run, building a strong relationship based on using teachable moments will create a staff culture of self-accountability and buy-in towards your goals.  Once staff understand why they should or cannot do something, they will more often encourage others to do their best and buy-in as well.  Developing a culture of buy-in and positive accountability in your facility starts at the top, with you.  You set the tone for the relationships you have with your staff and model how your subordinate leaders maintain their relationships with their staff as well. Once the positive culture is fully developed, your customers will begin to reap the benefits, and so will your bottom line.

Birthday Parties

Hosting parties at your facility is an excellent way to bring in additional revenue with very little extra expense.  Developing a party program specific to your customers’ needs and the amenities of your facility is easier than you think.

Evaluate Your Amenities and Options

The type of facility you operate has an impact on the type of party options you can offer.  For example, if you operate a community pool, offering an hourly rate based upon the number of guests is both easy for staff and acceptable to the guest. The rate can be increased if the facility is being used solely by the party or reduced if the party is during public swim hours or shared with another party.  If you operate a waterpark, a more complex party offering is appropriate. Facilities with amenities such as concessions, shade rentals, locker rentals, and tube rentals have unlimited possibilities for developing party packages.

There are also opportunities to increase in-park spending during parties.  Offering an upgrade from cupcakes to ice cream or larger shade rentals give some flexibility to the customer.  Offering creative “party only” options such as an appetizer basket, front-of-the-line passes, designated party game host, or cabana server also enhances the party experience.  Offering a few add-on options for your party guests can easily increase the amount of revenue generated per party.

Determine How to Structure Your Packages

For facilities with more complex party package offerings, there are a few different schools of thought for execution and marketing.

Total Package Included-   For this option, the marketing approach is to “make it easy” on the guest by offering all-inclusive packages based on the number of guests.  For example, there may be a 15 guest package for $300 that includes a large cabana rental for the day, 15 guest admissions, tube rentals, locker rentals, pizza and soda, and cupcakes.  While this may initially seem like the easier option for the guest, how often do party guests forget to RSVP or decide not to attend at the last minute?  If your facility chooses to offer the packages this way, it is important to discuss how those types of situations will be handled.  Is there an additional per person rate or do they automatically move up to the next package level?  If not as many guests show up as expected, are they permitted to move down a package level?  This can create additional stress for the guest on the day of the event, which is what they were trying to avoid in the first place.

Build-it-Yourself-   The Build-it-Yourself option places a majority of the planning on the guest organizing the party.  In this option, the guest is asked a series of questions such as:

do it yourself

The question list can continue on to allow the guest to completely customize their experience.  This marketing approach allows the guest to completely control every detail of their event and have it their way.  While some guests may find this level of customization exciting, many will find it unnecessary.  Coordinating all the details regarding food can be problematic for staff when there are multiple parties happening concurrently.

Per Person Package– This option is a blend between the Total Package Included option and the Build-it-Yourself option.  You can offer different levels of party packages with a per person price for each level.  For example:

per person package

Because shade rental size is determined by the number of guests, it is recommended that space rental is an add-on fee.  The marketing approach for this type of package is that it does not matter how many people arrive (though it is easiest when you obtain somewhat of a headcount beforehand to ensure food availability and shade rental), because the price is based on a per person rate.  This is also easier on the staff since everyone is eating the same type of food.

While you may find that one particular option works better for your guests or type of facility, the Per Person Package option seems to be the most popular since it provides flexibility for pricing for the guest, but ease of execution for the staff.

Set Yourself Apart

Pool parties are commonplace during the summer season.  Research the offerings in your area and find ways to set yourself apart from the competition.  Offering a complimentary party host to assist with fun games is memorable for the guests and not too hard on the budget as long as you schedule one party host to rotate between several parties.  Providing a cabana server allows you to keep an eye on the party and ensure it is going smoothly as well as increase in-park spending by recommending an additional pizza or drink refills.  While celebrating your special occasion is fun at a pool or waterpark, making the experience memorable and unique to your facility will encourage them to tell others about their experience and return each year for their end of the season team party or birthday extravaganza!





Auditing Your Lifeguards

Why Recognition is Difficult

There is a common misconception that if the lifeguard is paying attention and seated on an elevated lifeguard stand, that they will easily be able to spot a struggling swimmer.  This could not be further from the truth.  Surface turbulence due to swimmers or wind, deep pools, and possible sight obstructions such as other swimmers or equipment are common occurrences in pools.  healthy-swimmingThe International Lifesaving Federation conducted research on drowning recognition and discovered that lifeguards can only recognize a submerged body from 10 meters away when the water is perfectly calm, and 2 meters away when surface turbulence (regular operations) is present.  2 meters is an unachievable distance from a lifeguard stand and it limits the lifeguard’s ability to see around obstructions and avoid sun glare.  Through their research, it was determined that the best way to improve recognition of drowning victims by lifeguards is to develop walking paths that maximize visibility,  require lifeguards to walk along their area of responsibility, always inspect and remove items from the bottom of the pool regardless of whether or not it appears to be a body (most submerged drowning victims are mistaken for a towel or t-shirt), and test out submerged objects in each body of water while surface turbulence is created.  While these preventative measures set the lifeguards up for success during patron surveillance, they do not evaluate the lifeguard’s ability to recognize and respond to struggling swimmers or drowning victims.

What is an Audit?

Lifeguard Audits are a necessary safety program component for any aquatics facility.  There are many opinions on what is the most valuable way to test a lifeguard’s skill in an unannounced drill.  The goal is for the lifeguard to recognize there is a struggling swimmer, activate the emergency action plan (EAP), enter the water, perform the rescue, and evaluate/provide care for the swimmer.  To ensure the safety of all involved, audits should be performed when backup patron surveillance is provided while the lifeguard is responding to the audit.  Common ways to conduct an audit include using another staff member to enter the water wearing a red swim cap or t-shirt to signal that it is not a true drowning situation.  While these types of audits are valuable in evaluating the lifeguard’s ability to provide care, it does not adequately evaluate the lifeguard’s ability to recognize a true struggling swimmer or potential drowning victim.  Without recognition of the drowning victim, exceptional rescue and care skills will be applied much later than needed, which increases the likelihood of victim fatality or permanent brain damage.

Elements of a Successful Audit

An effective lifeguard audit will have an element of surprise, which is limited using a known colleague in a red shirt or swim cap. hunsaker-test2 Lifeguards often spot the “victim” as they enter the water and are fully prepared for when the audit begins.  Despite what is pictured in the movies, drowning victims do not call out or announce that they need help.  Using a pre-determined object, such as a red hand towel that is easily thrown in the water can be the most effective option. It is small enough that the person conducting the audit can conceal it and get it into the water without the lifeguard seeing the audit begin, but large enough that when spread out, can appear very similar in size to a small child.  Another benefit of a hand towel, unlike the commonly used ping pong ball, is that it floats for a few seconds before submerging, just like a struggling swimmer.  When surveyed, lifeguards agreed that using a red towel as the “victim” during an audit required them to scan more effectively and thoroughly than a red cap drill since they did not see the “victim” enter the water.

The second element of an effective lifeguard audit is consistency.  To successfully pass an audit, the lifeguard should be able to recognize the “victim,” activate the EAP, perform the rescue, and bring the “victim” to the edge of the pool under 30 seconds.  Audits should not be used solely to determine who the best lifeguard is or who is “paying attention”.  Recording which lifeguard station the audit took place at, weather, bather load, and amount of time it took to recognize the victim and perform the rescue provides valuable data.  This data should be analyzed to determine where a lifeguard’s weak spots are and how best to address them.  After each audit, regardless of whether it was a pass or fail, the lifeguard should be counseled on the results of the audit and any improvements needed in their scanning.

The last element of an effective audit is to make it realistic.  While the “victim” is only a red hand towel, it is important to place it in a location where it is plausible and likely that a swimmer could struggle.  Once the “rescue” is performed, the hand towel should be replaced with a CPR mannequin to allow for an appropriate initial assessment and care audit.  Because the hand towel does not provide for a realistic rescue experience, staff will need to practice victim rescues separately from the audit.  When a drowning occurs, it is more likely that recognition of the emergency was delayed as opposed to lack of skill when providing care.  While both are important, ensuring lifeguards can recognize an emergency immediately can mean the difference between life and death.