Category Archives: Programming

Spectator Seating Basics

Spectator seating is more often associated with natatoria than with outdoor pools that are used primarily for recreation. Spectator seating is universally associated with competition in any sport. For swimming, the seating shall be located with viewing from the side of the course so the spectator can follow the race, water polo matches and synchronized swimming from end to end. Likewise the viewing of springboard and platform diving is preferred from the side, not head on.

Seating locations vary. Deck seating is usually found in small natatoria with short course pools, i.e., 25M. Larger natatoria with diving platforms and long spans develop overhead clearances that will easily accommodate second floor gallery seating. Sometimes budget or other influencing factors leads the designer to create mezzanine seating where the first row is 1 to 1.5 meters above the pool deck which improves the line of sight over deck seating but is not quite as desirable as gallery seating. Like those sitting in deck seating, spectators in mezzanine seats can still have their view blocked by athletes and officials walking on the deck. End seats are sometimes provided when building configuration dictates and the primary racecourse is in the short course direction, across the long course direction of the pool. Traditionally the preference is for side seating that is parallel with the main race course. It is only when extraordinary circumstances exist that alternative orientations occur.  A design that combines permanent seats and a flat mezzanine either behind the permanent seats or to the side may “fit” with the natatorium space.

There are several configuration options and combinations among those the most advantageous view is from a balcony one story above the water. Lesser quality viewing is a mezzanine approximately 1.2 M above the pool deck. The least desirable but still acceptable is deck level. The varying factor is obstruction of view by people walking back and forth along the deck, i.e., officials, athletes and coaches.  For locations that do have elevated seating, accessibility will become a key part of the design as multiple entrance/exist points will be required.

The line of site or viewing angle of the spectator seating is also a key design element for consideration.

Other factors that must be considered with spectator seating is controlled access, traffic patterns that do not cross wet decks, ADA design issues, emergency exits, restrooms for spectator use only, custodial implications and considerations, and parking requirements.

Seating construction can vary. Permanent seats are often considered the first choice due to easier housekeeping tasks and lower annual costs. However, when other issues are considered such as first costs, convertible space, frequency of competition events, emergency exit requirements, density of spectators and parking requirement ratios, a mixture of seat construction types are considered, i.e., retractable, temporary and portable.

A typical seat count for a short course Pool (25M or 25 Yard) natatorium is 100-250 seats.  Facilities hosting multi-team meets, will usually require 250 to 500 seats. Since these events are infrequent, a combination of permanent and temporary seats is the most cost effective. Some pools are in locales with many age group teams that want access for bigger meets. These facilities can justify 500 – 1,000 combined seats.  A long course pool (50M) that will host major competition will typically require a minimum of 1000 plus permanent seats, with space for placement of additional temporary seats.  Larger attendance may occur for a US age group invitational meet.    U.S. Division I universities with highly developed swimming and diving programs that wish to attract the National NCAA Championship meets frequently provide 1000 to 2000 seats made up of both permanent and temporary seats. The U.S. Olympic Festival requirements were 2500 to 3000 seats prior to that events demise. Major international swimming events such as the FINA World Championships or Pan American Games, would typically require 7,500 to 10,000 seats.  At the top of the scale is the Olympic Venue for aquatic sports with a requirement of 15,000 to 20,000 seats, which includes up to 1/3 reserved for VIP’s, the Olympic family and the media.

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Are Your Arms Paddles or Propellers?

For decades swimmers have been taught that freestyle, AKA “front crawl,” involves keeping their elbows high and using their arms to make an S-shaped pattern underwater.  Known as “sculling,” this technique was developed by Doc Counsilman and helped Indiana University win 6 consecutive NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships (1968–1973) and 20 consecutive (1961–1980) Big Ten Conference titles.  May of his swimmers went on to set world records and win Olympic gold medals, including Mark Spitz, Gary Hall and Jim Montgomery.  But in recent years, top level swimmers have started to modify their stroke, slowly abandoning the sculling technique in favor of the straight arm “deep catch” technique.

A recent Johns Hopkins study lead by Dr. Rajat Mittal, a mechanical engineering professor and devoted recreational swimmer, compared both swimming techniques using fluid dynamic models, laser scanners and motion capture video.  The study’s results indicates that if all variables are equal “…the deep-catch stroke is far more effective.”

Not surprisingly, the results of this study are likely to pose more questions than it answers.  In the meantime, read the article below and decide for yourself what style arms you have: Paddles or Propellers.

Article Link:

Doc’s Biography:


Competitive swimmers execute headfirst dive entries from starting blocks into pools where water depths can vary. If the swimmer’s head strikes the bottom of a pool, this could result in damage to the cervical vertebrae, thus may result in quadriplegia. This was a significant topic of conversation in the industry in the early 1980s when a varsity swimmer at a university was injured in practice.

In prevention of Cervical Spinal Injuries (CSI), a cohesive plan currently does not exist in a minimum uniform water depth, which would lessen the likelihood of catastrophic tragedies. “No Diving” signs are posted when the water is less than five feet deep in some states, and four feet in others. This is still more inconsistency. What is the right depth for balancing safety and function for in a swimming pool? What depth? And what about recreation/therpy swimmers?  

Here’s the Confusion

Up until the early 2000s the industry standard water depths were in the 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet range. November 2001, the NFSHS changed minimum water depths from 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet. USA Swimming followed suit with a note that teaching off a starting block shall be limited to 5 feet water depth. 

Policy makers, swimming pool rulebooks, and state swimming pool codes still lack research in regard to water depth requirements under starting blocks. Moreover, water depth requirements under starting blocks in governing bodies’ rulebooks not only conflict with one another but often conflict with state statutes, which may in turn conflict with local county and municipal ordinances.  

The following shows a variance among the four aquatic governing bodies, as well as the YMCA and the American Red Cross, in regard to water depth for headfirst entries. 

Federation Internationale DE Natation (FINA): 4 feet 5 inches.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): 4 feet.

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHS): 4 feet.

USA Swimming and US Masters Swimming: 4 feet for racing, 6 feet for teaching.

YMCA: 5 feet.

American Red Cross: 9 feet.  

The Research

There has been plenty of research on the health advantages of recreation, lesson, fitness, and competitive swimming and how it impacts safety and lifestyle. Here’s a nice shout out to water safety programs and ongoing swim lessons nationwide. Even though more and more people are exposed to a growing number of swimming pools at new aquatic facilities across the nation, drowning death rates in the United States have declined in the last decade according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Should We Build All-Deep Water Pools?

Is the answer that we build all-deep water pools? And if so, how deep? Twenty years ago swimmers swam nearly their entire race at the surface. Today most elite swimmers swim a large percentage of their races 3 to 4 feet below the surface, utilizing a butterfly (dolphin) kicking technique. In a shallow pool, swimmers utilizing this technique may face higher drag forces and may even have to modify their technique.  

Because of these factors, pool depth more closely correlates to swimming speed today than in the past. Championship pool depth may impede many instructional, fitness, and recreational opportunities and consequently, revenue potential. And since people frequent pools for a variety of reasons—fitness, relaxation, instruction, competition, and therapy—today’s swimming facilities do not just accommodate competitive swimmers but are multidimensional centers encompassing all types of swimmers.  

To provide a fiscally sustainable facility, multiple users must be able to use the same space for different purposes at different times. Building an all deep-water competitive/lesson pool with a moveable floor for altering water depth for various purposes can be provided; however, the cost of such a floor system is often considered prohibitive. The following shows preferred water depths for various types of swimmers.

0 – 3.5 Feet



        Wellness / Therapy 

3.5 – 5 Feet


        Lap Swimming

        Wellness / Therapy 

6 – 10 Feet

        Competitive Swimming

        Water Polo

        Synchronized Swimming 

11.5 Feet +


In addition to variances of water depth for different types of swimmers, pool water temperature is another consideration in multi-use pools. Water too cold causes muscles to tighten while water too warm causes overheating and lethargy. Water temperature at 79-81° F is ideal for competition while the natatorium is maintained at two degrees above the pool water temperature to minimize evaporation. The following shows different water temps (in natatoriums) for various types of swimmers. 

Competition Pool                    =          82 ° F, competition and training prefer 78° to 82°

            Air Temperature          =          84° F (or 2° above water temperature)

 Leisure Pool                            =          82° to 86° F

             Air Temperature          =          84° to 87° F (if in separate space)

Diving Pool                              =          84° to 86°

            Air Temperature          =          86° to 87° F (if in separate space)

Therapy Pool                           =          88° to 92° F

            Air Temperature          =          86° to 90° F (if in separate space)


If you build an all-deep water pool with a movable floor, you still have a problem with water temperatures. Competitive swimmers like it cooler than recreation swimmers who like it cooler than warm-water wellness seekers. Building multi-faceted facilities with separate pools for various types of swimmers seems to be an answer in providing various water depths and proper water temperatures at aquatic centers. Swim meets, lap swimming, deep-water aerobics, life saving instruction, diving lessons, survival swimming, synchronized swimming, water polo, deep-water aqua jogging, underwater hockey, and scuba instruction can take place in an all deep-water competitive/lesson pool, which frees up the warm-water therapy pool for water wellness seekers, and the leisure/recreation pool for swimmers who want to use the play features such as waterslides, current channels, participatory play structures, etc.

Lightning – Making an Informed Decision

One of the responsibilities of an Aquatic Facility Manager is to make an informed decision on when it is safe to swim.  This includes the quality of the water, risk management support and the presence of bad weather.  It is not uncommon for our firm to be consulted by aquatic facility operators when developing a policy for lightning storms.  Unfortunately, there are conflicting statements about what is in the best interest of public health and there does not seem to be a perfect answer. 

When these discussions come up, we often refer individuals to two publications to provide a perspective on the issues that need to be considered when making an informed decision for their particular facility.  In the November / December Aquatics International article, ”When Lightning Strikes”, Tom Griffith and Matt Griffin review injury statistics, code requirements and risk management variables.  This article summarizes:  “It’s impossible to eliminate all risk associated with pools without also eliminating the numerous benefits also associated with them. Competent operators and managers of aquatics facilities should be focusing on actual risks that are known to cause catastrophic injury and death, not on an urban myth that has no supporting evidence. Remember, hundreds of indoor pools are open every day during thunderstorms, and there’s never been a documented case of death attributed to lightning. Remember, too, that people swimming indoors during a thunderstorm are as safe as they can be.”

A second source that may be consulted is the publication Lifesaving Resources, LLC and an article written by Gerald M. Dworkin in 1998 and revised in June of 2012 titled “Emergency Procedures During Thunder & Lighting Storms.”  This article describes basic lightning facts and sample Standard Operating Procedures.  This article states: “All patrons and facility staff should be cleared from the water and the surrounding area (pool deck or beach) immediately at the first sounding of thunder or the first sighting of lightning. Because lightning is attracted to the tallest object in the area, patrons and facility staff should not be allowed to congregate under trees, umbrellas, or other tall objects. Everyone should leave the facility, go indoors, or stay in their automobiles until the storm passes.”  It goes on to state that “we advocate that the same principles that pertain to outdoor aquatic and recreation facilities should be followed for indoor facilities as well.”

The Best Health Insurance

My advanced education in chemistry never prepared me to make wise decisions  relative to small business healthcare decisions.  After working on health insurance for our  team for seven years in a row, it seems this is the way the world is going –  until the Supreme Court decides otherwise.   I can only pray that divine intervention will bring some wisdom into our  executive, legislative and judicial branches in regard to healthcare. Though,  I’m not holding my breath. Where politics leads, stupidity will follow. We are  the ones to suffer.

Here’s a headline you don’t see every day. Your health is your  responsibility.  Uh oh, there goes my  shot at ever being an elected official. It may sound blunt, but it is reality.  Should there be help to prevent catastrophic health care costs? Absolutely!  Yet, let’s face reality. The best health  insurance is the one you never need to use (except for prevention) because we  exercise, eat right, relax in a pool or spa regularly (nice how I worked the  “pool and spa” thing in, eh?).

Take a serious look at High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) and  elect and contribute to Health Savings Accounts (HSA).  These high deductible plans can make a person  gasp at first. Yet, if you can contribute to the HSA, focus on preventative  care, you can reduce your taxable income and build a financial buffer in the  HSA that can cover deductibles for years to come. Take that tax savings,  savings on your monthly premium, and use some of your pre-tax dollars to put in  your HSA account.  You own the HSA  contributions. According to today’s rules, when you turn 65, you can use the  HSA money for retirement. You have to consider how best to protect your family  against catastrophic health care costs. Take a serious look at HDHPs.

Oh yeah, make a $10.00 tax deductible donation to the Step  Into Swim™ campaign to  help fund programs that are creating swimmers.   Making a $10 donation helps reduce healthcare inflation, drowning,  increases fun and creates growth in our field

Reprinted from NSPF Blog