Play It Safe at the Water Park
Don’t dive in until you read these tips for staying upstream of germs, drowning and other hazards
A trip to a water park can be the perfect antidote for hot, sticky weather. But before you head out, dive into these water park safety precautions. Heeding them could make the difference between a wet and wild day of fun and a sunburn, tummy ache or worse.
Before you go
Pack smart. Bring plenty of towels and water-resistant sunscreen. If you or your child can't commit to reapplying sunscreen regularly, add more sun protection with rash guards or long-sleeved shirts. For kids with sensitive eyes, toss in goggles to protect against chlorinated water.
Water shoes may help prevent scraped soles and stubbed toes, but check water park rules about wearing them. “Some parks don’t allow riders to wear water shoes on certain attractions, especially slides,” explains Aleatha Ezra, director of park member development at the World Waterpark Association. To protect your feet between rides, it may be easier to wear flip-flops that you can slip off and on easily.
Finally, bring plenty of bottled water. When you’re constantly wet it can be tough to tell if you become dehydrated. Remind everyone to drink up.
Know kids' limits. If you’re bringing kids, be sure of their water skills. According to the American Red Cross, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death in children. Among kids ages 1 to 4, this tragedy is responsible for more deaths than any other besides birth defects.
Note that because of the explosion of shallow water attractions at theme parks, including winding rivers, catch pools, slides, chutes and play areas, the Red Cross has begun to certify lifeguards specifically for extremely shallow water, which is defined as three feet or less.
“The most basic precaution you can take is to swim only in areas with a lifeguard on duty, even in very shallow water,” explains Matt Haynes of the Red Cross’s life guarding and aquatic examiner service.
At the park
Don’t get in over your head. Limit little ones (and even older kids) who can’t swim to attractions that don’t require any swimming ability. Many parks have zero-depth pool areas or play structures with just a few inches of water in or around them. “There’s lots of fun to be had with spray features, on rope ladders or by standing underneath the dump buckets,” points out Ezra.
Be extra cautious with infants. “Babies may be more comfortable sitting in a stroller or carrier, rather than in the water where they can get cold quickly,” says Elizabeth Powell, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on injury, violence and poison prevention.just
Don’t just skim the signs. The rules posted for waterslides and other park attractions aren’t there for decoration. Don’t hop on a ride without reading them. Pay close attention to how deep the water is, age and height restrictions and warnings related to health conditions such as pregnancy or heart ailments.
Watch and learn. Before taking the plunge on a new ride or allowing a child to try it, observe others using it. Think about how well you or your kid will be able to handle it. Ask yourself questions like:
- On slides, will the rider behind your preschooler squash him if he doesn’t exit quickly?
- Is the landing pool at the end too deep?
- Are the waves in the wave pool too strong?
“Typically, these attractions have lifeguards stationed at the start and finish,” says Haynes, “but it’s critical for parents to supervise their own kids and make sure they’re following the posted rules.”
Keep it clean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported substantial outbreaks of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) associated with public swimming. In fact, the most recent CDC report found that one in eight pool inspections resulted in closure due to code violations, which included improper chlorine levels.
RWIs are caused by germs spread by contact with water or by swallowing it in pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas and interactive fountains. The most common recreational water illness is diarrhea, though other RWIs include gastrointestinal ailments and skin, ear, respiratory and eye infections.
Less-than-clean swimmers spread most of the germs in public waters. You can protect your family and fellow water park-goers by following some simple steps from the CDC.
1. Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
2. Try not to swallow pool water and teach kids not to as well.
3. Check kids’ diapers frequently and change them in the bathroom (not poolside).
4. Shower before you go into the water and bathe kids before as well, paying special attention to cleaning their bottoms.
5. Make sure kids are clean before they go into a pool or ride a water slide.
Test the waters. Chlorine does a good job of killing germs in pool water, but it takes time to work. When this chemical has to fight urine, sweat and other contaminants, it can’t kill germs very quickly or effectively. The pH of water also affects how well chlorine can do its job.
The CDC recommends asking water park operators about chlorine levels, which should be between 1.0 and 3.0 parts per million. The pH level in pool water should range from 7.2 to 7.8. You can test chlorine and pH yourself using test strips sold in hardware and pool supply stores, as well as some big box stores.
Don’t get burned. Even waterproof sunscreen washes off (and towels wipe away the rest), so be vigilant about reapplying it throughout the day. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) recommends a Coast Guard-approved life vest for kids who are under 4 feet, as well as for those who can’t swim or don’t swim well.
IAAPA also suggests assigning “buddies” within a large group and choosing a meet-up spot in case anyone gets separated.