A checklist of items to consider when reviewing your approach to water safety Compiled by Dave DuBois (itllgro@aol.com, (714) 828-3515)

Originally presented at the Australian Swim Coaches and Teachers Association annual conference on the Gold Coast, Australia in May 2006.


Note: These items are in addition to some basic considerations such as having your staff CPR/first aid trained and following all local standards/regulations in regard to pools and pool areas.


  1. Do you provide comprehensive safety information to parents?
    1. Guidelines for parents about the layers of protection (Kids Alive – Do the Five!, Safer 3, )
    2. Communicate expectations of behavior around the swim school environment
      1. Unbroken chain of supervision
        1. Directly handing over supervision from parent to teacher at the beginning of the lesson
        2. Directly handing over supervision from teacher back to parent at the end of the lesson
      2. Does your swim school demonstrate the “best practice” standards of how to act around the water, and encourage extending that behavior to the backyard pool and family time around the water?
        1. This involves recognizing that the swim school that parents are coming to for instruction, run by the professionals in the industry, are providing an example of how to act around the water, and are teaching parents how to act around the water. There is a responsibility on the part of swim schools to make that example the best one it can be, establishing the standard for what behavior is appropriate in and around
        2. Example: A parent may go into the changeroom to assist their child for a few minutes and leave another child on the pool deck, essentially leaving a child unsupervised around the
  • Example: A parent is in the water with their baby in a class and leaves an older child on the pool deck during the lesson. Again, the child on the pool deck is not being directly supervised. If the parent in the water will be focused on their child, as most programs hope they will be, they are not directly supervising the other child, which is what’s necessary in and around the


  1. Note: If the above examples are acceptable at the swim school, the environment setting the standard, run by professionals, what is the parent being taught to emulate at home? This is especially important when you consider most drownings at home occur when there are short term lapses in
  1. Here are some guidelines about supervision that are very specific and address the issue much more clearly that the simple catch-all of “always supervise”:
    1. “A young child who can swim needs the same supervision as one who has not had lessons.” (Water Safety New Zealand)
    2. “The Royal Life Saving Society Australia recommends that all children be constantly supervised whenever they are in, on or near water. This even includes public swimming pools where lifeguards are on duty.” Also from Royal Life:
      1. Supervision is defined as constant visual contact from within a distance of 3-5 meters (or 3-5 yards). For children aged less than 4 years, parents or carers should be in the water with the child (that age could be extended and you could specify “within an arm’s reach” – DD).
      2. Supervision does not include an occasional glance at the child while reading or snoozing. Neither should supervision lapse in response to a distraction. If a distraction demands attention, the child should be removed from the water and secured in a safe location where access to the water is restricted until supervision can
      3. Swimming pool fences, flotation aids or water familiarization lessons are not a substitute for
    3. Tips for parents at home
      1. Keep a phone nearby when supervising (to use in emergency, not to answer in case it rings)
      2. Let the phone ring, when supervising (don’t be distracted by answering it)
  • Inflatable aids are not a substitute for supervision
  1. Are you CPR trained and do you know what to do in an emergency?
  2. NSW Health Department – Home safety check list (Questions to ask when at home):
    1. Is your child being supervised?
    2. Have you emptied the bathtub?
    3. Is the lid on the nappy (diaper) bucket?
    4. Have you made sure that your child cannot gain access to the pool or spa?


  1. Have you checked for other water dangers such as open drains, garden ponds, creeks or dams?
  1. Consider who is supervising your children:
    1. Are they capable of acting in an emergency?
    2. Are they drinking? Alcohol, even in small quantities affects someone’s ability to
    3. Consider the example of an exit row seat in an airplane … There are restrictions or conditions for sitting there – people are questioned and if they are older, too young or physically hindered in any way, they are not allowed to sit there. So, think about who is being asked to supervise your
  2. Have you established specific Teaching Standards for your swim school that address safety issues in the following areas?
    1. Are manageable class sizes maintained (specific numbers may be suggested, ie 4 to 1 ratio in preschool age groups, 6 to 1 ratio in school age groups, or less)
    2. Are classes grouped or graded according to similar skills (avoiding beginners being grouped with advanced swimmers)
    3. Have you established maximum teacher distances from students, for example, “within an arm’s length for beginner levels or non swimmers”
    4. Do you have an established procedure for entries & exists of your pool (safest possible, supervised)
    5. Do you use safety oriented class organization that:
      1. Uses strategies to avoid back turning by the teacher and keeps the class within view
      2. Minimizes how far the teacher gets from students
  • Maintains movement and activity
  1. Are all staff and pool users aware of proper equipment use, placement and storage? For example, are platforms moved into other teaching stations during classes where other teacher might be unaware of them and cause a potential risk to swimmers who are unaware they have been moved
  2. Does your staff training educate your teachers about the safety related Teaching Standards suggested above?
  1. Do you involve safety related skills in each class, along with swimming skills and stroke development? The emphasis here is that these skills are not only practiced during “safety weeks” or periodic safety themes but become a regular part of the child water experience? Some of the skills that might be practiced, as ability and development allow might include:
    1. Turn around swims of various types where children practice reorienting back to the wall and climbing out, if
    2. Backfloating


  1. Treading water
  2. Swimming without goggles for a few minutes each class
    1. Not forced, but strongly
    2. Many swimmers who use goggles can become dependent on them and turn into virtual non swimmers if they are without them. The ideal would be that while swimmers may use their goggles for comfort and orientation, they know they can swim without them as well. The best way to achieve this is a little practice each
  3. Exposure to “rough water” – Water is not always as calm as the pool. As a swimmer’s skill increases it could be beneficial to expose them to a different scenario in the pool, perhaps by making some waves with kickboards as they swim, or involving it in a game. The intention would be for a subtle experience, not to surprise or frighten the swimmer or extend them beyond their abilities. Kept within reason, this could supply valuable experience that would help prepare the swimmer and help delay the onset of panic if they find themselves in more turbulent water than they are used
  4. Exposed to Cooler water – Just as with the rough water, described above, water is often cooler than in the heated learn to swim pool. A gradual and gentle exposure to cooler water can help prepare the swimmer for that experience. For locations that have a bigger or cooler pool, this may be as simple as making a supervised exploration into that pool, to try it out.
  5. Exposed to Rescue scenarios – What would they do if their friend was in trouble? Ask them. Role play. Many children’s tendency will be to help their friend and attempt a rescue. While this is admirable in its intention, it will most likely end up in a multiple drowning if they try to swim out to their friend. Correct rescue techniques can be practiced, but it should be encouraged that their primary response be to get help/get an adult/call 911.
  6. Have they been exposed to swimming with their clothes on?
  7. Can you simulate a fall, or unexpected entry (closely supervised), into the pool from a variety of places (side of pool, steps, etc.) to prepare them for the unexpected and reduce the chance of
  1. Have you thoroughly reviewed the Communication used in the swim school in all these areas:
    1. Terminology and vocabulary used
      1. When speaking to clients and other staff
      2. In written in materials and on signs
  • Website and internet communications
  1. Language to use
    1. “Safer”


  1. As safe as possible
  • Another layer of protection
  1. Refer to the SAFER 3 program
  2. Refer to the advice from Royal Life Saving Society above for suggestion of how to describe supervision
  3. More? Brainstorm with your staff
  1. Language NOT to use
    1. Safe
    2. Drownproof
  • Pool safe
  1. Water safe
  2. Complete Water Safety
  3. Other? Brainstorm with your staff
  1. Actions you can take now to improve your overall approach to Water Safety and help improve the Safer Education Process:
    1. Raise awareness of others, of your staff, and yourself
    2. Inform yourself, your staff and the families you serve
    3. Educate yourself, your staff and the families you serve
    4. Modify behavior (of your staff, of your students and the families you work with)
    5. Take responsibility (do what you can, control what you can control)
    6. Review the checklist for ideas



Everyone cares deeply and the water safety issue and wants to eliminate the tragic drowning that occur each year. You are already one of the major parts of the solution, maybe there are some more things that can be done …


My hope is that this hasn’t been focused on the negative, or been pointing any fingers, but exposing some important issues and ultimately suggesting more things we CAN do to make things better, raising the water safety bar a bit higher, setting a new “best practice” standard for our industry … Providing us all with a Safer Education Process.