With summer well underway I want to take a moment to highlight best practices for water safety. In the last few weeks I’ve seen some unsafe choices around the water and I have to remind myself not everyone is trained in water safety.  As you may remember I worked on the waterfront staff at Camp Pontiac – what you probably don’t know is that we had an EXCELLENT water safety protocol. After my interview on Lifehacker about being a former camp counselor, I was inspired to reach out to my former bosses to pick their brains about what we can do as parents to be safe this summer, inspired by their vast experiences at Camp Pontiac and in their hometowns where they also work in the water. 

I wanted to know as parents what their specific pool rules were – for example in our house the rule is #TheHandful is not allowed in the water unless me or Baby Daddy have two feet in the pool. Let’s see what the masters of the waterfront have to say about best pool practices this summer. Here are some lifeguard approved rules for water safety for your family this summer.

Panel of Experts:

Steve Fein Camp Pontiac Waterfront Director for 10 summers. Trails End Camp- one summer as lake director, Certified Lifeguard 

Jill Christiansen Lifeguard for 15+ years (pool and lakefront); 3 year head coach of high school boys and girls swimming. Teacher for 17 years, Masters in Special Education

Joan Warner Lifeguard and WSI at Camp Pontiac from 2002-2006, then WSI through 2008 from infancy through adults. 


1) DO NOT OVER ESTIMATE YOUR SWIMMER’S ABILITIES AND DO NOT PUSH SWIMMERS FURTHER THAN THEIR LIMITS– unanimously agreed upon by my experts.There was a reason we swim tested EVERY person at camp at the beginning of the summer, regardless of how great they did last summer: kids forget during the school year. Do not assume your 7 year old who can swim is water safe enough for you to be on your phone or otherwise distracted. Advanced swimmers can drown too. Per Jo: “Adults get comfortable and comfort leads to laxed watches. Drowning can happen in as little as 30 seconds, which is less time than it takes for you to grab your cell phone, open Instagram, and scroll through a few stories.”

2) “NO HORSEPLAY” akaDO NOT PUSH PEOPLE IN THE POOLthis one came from Steve our head of Waterfront. This sounds like common sense, however it bears repeating as every year someone thinks it’s funny to push a person in the pool. They can hit their head, they can break their necks, they can lose their expensive iPhones … the list goes on. NO PUSHING PEOPLE IN THE POOL, it’s never funny and often times has serious consequences. 

3) DO NOT ALLOW CHILDREN UNDER AGE 16 INSIDE THE POOL GATE UNLESS AN ADULT IS THERE TO SUPERVISE. Why 16? At age 16 many can drive and therefore transport a friend to the hospital. Under age 16 they would have to find an adult, which wastes rescue time. I recently saw a 7 year old open a pool gate and allow three children under age 5 into the pool and all the adults were inside. I was hobbling behind on my boot screaming NO ADULTS ARE IN THE POOL and the parents all looked at me like I was crazy because they rationalized that the 7 year old can swim. COOL, what about the other three and what happens if he slips and hits his head? If he hits his head and slips into the pool, can 4 year old #TheHandful even reach the gate to open it to call for help?  I just felt my adrenaline pump recounting that.

4) SURVEY THE POOL PRIOR TO ENTRY – per Jill.  “ I always look at the water before entering. If I can’t see the bottom of the pool, neither can the lifeguard. The chemicals are off and I don’t get in, period! When visiting a pool with or without a lifeguard, I always look for lifesaving equipment (shepherds crook, tubes, and a phone), I also look to see who is swimming and who is not. I always go into lifeguard mode no matter where I am at or whom I am with” says Christiansen.

5) ADULTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GET COMPLACENT NEAR THE WATER. When we are at the pool, we are all engaged (no phones, no magazines) and paying attention to what’s happening in the water – Warner advises. And our boss, Steve reminded us how he kept us vigilant at the waterfront “if all else fails, spray them with a hose” to keep their attention sharp. Fein says “constant scanning is a must”. (For the record neither Jo, Jill or I ever got sprayed for failing to pay attention.)

6) DISCUSS WATER SAFETY RULES AHEAD OF TIME: Jill and Jo both said this. Tell your kids what the rules are, tell your guests what the rules are and manage everyone’s expectations ahead of time. 

7) — — USE SUNSCREEN: all three stressed this. In the word’s of Steve Fein “you don’t want your kid to become a s’more”. 

We had amazing, safe summers at camp thanks to these rules. One rule I left out because it really pertained to a camp setting, but is still worth mentioning is the constant buddy-checks we did at camp. Every so often Steve would blow his whistle and everyone had to exit the pool and sound off on a buddy check. This was done to ensure all children were accounted for. Steve did this as often as he felt necessary to keep us all vigilant. At home, perhaps during a pool party, consider emptying the pool every 30 minutes to give swimmers a break and water watchers a chance to refresh themselves to stay vigilant.

What are some water safety tips you live by?