Never Stop Training: Aquatics Risk Management


With new aquatics intramurals, club sports and activities each year, the pools in your rec centers are consistently being used by new and returning patrons, making aquatics risk management more important than ever.

Recreation at Duke University has several areas, specifically in aquatics, they find of value when it comes to risk management best practices. “We rely heavily on our in-service training and audit schedules,” said Abi Schaefer, the director of Aquatics at Duke. “We take a lot of time and energy to ensure we have quality trainings monthly, that we are following up with quality audits and drills to keep our staff on their toes, and that they are fully trained for all incidents that could occur.”

Training and audits at Duke include:

Mandatory Four Hours a Month of In-Service Training

These in-services consist of scenario-based training, basic skills training and facility appropriate training. Time is also taken during these trainings to review and practice the emergency action plan. “We spend a good amount of time laying out our in-services so they are educational, impactful and fun,” said Schaefer. “We want our staff to know what to do in any emergency so we also take suggestions from the head lifeguards, lifeguards, and instructor team on skills and drills they would like to practice or brush up on.”

Live Action Audits

These are drills done by the head lifeguard team with the supervision of the management team. Duke has seven head lifeguards on staff currently. They are divided up into two teams and required to perform one live-action audit per week. These audits are discussed and designed at the bi-weekly head lifeguard meetings. “We discuss what audits were done really well by the staff, where we could see some improvement, and we also look at recent incident report trends to see if there are any trends within those we should focus on,” shared Schaefer.

Red Ball Drops

These are scanning drills, similar to live action drills, also done weekly by the head lifeguard team. The auditor will throw a red tennis ball, the lifeguard on stand has 10 seconds to see it and 10 seconds to get it for a total of 20 seconds reaction time. Schaefer explained how this simulates at any location that a lifeguard can get to a victim within 10 to 20 seconds to preform care.

Equipment Audits

“This is the drill we do with our team to ensure the lifeguards are checking equipment at each shift,” said Schaefer. “Equipment audits can consist of a sticker on the AED stating ‘audit text management’ to hip packs being moved, straps missing from backboards, etc.”

This ensures the equipment is getting looked at daily by multiple staff members to determine it is working properly at all times.

Only Opening Facilities When Two or More Lifeguards are Present

Schaefer explained this is an extra step in protection for both patrons and staff. “We want to make sure we are properly staffing the pools and ensuring our patrons are safe and well-guarded,” she said.

Lastly, in maintaining training and audits when it comes to aquatics risk management, Schaefer elaborated it is important to involve every staff member and to never get comfortable. “We like to keep things fresh and new, so management is constantly asking what we can do better or different,” she said. “You can always be training and doing what is best for the next incident.”

Brittany Howard
Brittany is an editor at Peake Media. Reach her at

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