Safety Tips for Waterfront Outings

One of the best outings for a school or community group is to head for the local lake or waterfront on a sunny day to enjoy the natural beauty of British Columbia.  To ensure the day ends happily, and not in tragedy, the Lifesaving Society offers the following tips for safety around the water.

Location Knowledge:

Prior to the day of the outing, group leaders should obtain knowledge of the waterfront the group will be visiting such as:

  • Is there lifeguard supervision and are they certified with National Lifeguard Service (NLS) Waterfront training?
  • If no lifeguard supervision, is there any emergency equipment provided such as ring buoy or other reaching assist?
  • Where are the designated swimming areas and hazardous areas to be avoided?
  • Are there drop-offs or other hidden hazards such as rocks just below the water surface?
  • In case of emergency, are there park rangers or other nearby staff who could be contacted?  And do they have emergency training?
  • Is there an emergency phone nearby or is there reliable cell phone reception?
  • Does warning signage use symbols for those with English as a second language?

Group Orientation:

Prior to the day of the outing, all members of the group should attend a group orientation to relay the location knowledge obtained as well as to make participants aware of the rules to be strictly enforced during the outing, including:

  • Using a ‘buddy system’ to pair up participants and make them understand the importance of staying with, and keeping an eye on, their buddy.
  • Staying within the designated swimming area.
  • Inflatable toys are not allowed.
  • Consequences if a rule is not followed.
  • Group leaders must also explain to students what they are expected to do in case of an emergency and how (verbally or using agreed upon hand signals) to indicate that an emergency has occurred.

Also ensure that parents/guardians have been made aware of the nature and location of the outing and that emergency contact information if available for each participant.  A trip plan should also be left with a responsible adult not on the trip who will be notified on the safe return of the group and will notify emergency services in the case of not being notified of a safe return by the specified time.


  • Ideally, go to a lifeguard-supervised waterfront where there is professional supervision and aquatic staff are trained and equipped to deal with aquatic emergencies as well as minor and major first aid situations.
  • If going to a non-lifeguard-supervised waterfront, an option is to hire one or more lifeguards depending on group size.  The Lifesaving Society provides insurance coverage for lifeguards who offer their services at private functions.  These lifeguards can be contacted through your local swimming pool or the Society can assist in advising them of your event.
  • If not going to a lifeguard-supervised area and not hiring a lifeguard, determine what qualifications and training group leaders hold.
  • If group leaders are responsible for supervision, ensure the ratio of leaders to students does not exceed 8:1, unless the students are under 8 years of age where the ratio should not exceed 3:1.

Swimming Skills Check:

Prior to the day of the outing, determine the level of swimming ability for each student.  If they have taken Canadian Red Cross lessons, have they obtained Swim Kids 5 level?  If not, they should be able to accomplish the Lifesaving Society’s Swim to Survive standard:

1.  Roll into deep water            2.  Tread water for 1 minute            3.  Swim 50 metres

  • If unable to do this, make lifejackets available for the marginal swimmers and inform the non-swimmers that they are not to enter the water or be within two metres of the water’s edge.
  • Even competent swimmers can be compromised by cramps, hazards, cold water, etc. so continual supervision of the group is essential.

During the Outing:

On the day of the outing, group leaders must take full responsibility for the safety and well-being of the participants and must enforce the rules explained at the Group Orientation.

In Case of Emergency:

Prior to the day of the outing, plan for the worst case scenario by determining who among the group leaders will:

  • Take the ‘command’ role
  • Provide first aid
  • Make the call for emergency services
  • Deal with crowd control, hysterical friends/relatives and the media
  • Write reports of exactly what happened, when, where and to whom

As with any such outing, check with your insurance provider to ensure the activity will be covered under existing insurance and whether waiver forms are required.