Safe and Sound Splashing 
Waterpark Ride Safety Precautions 

By Hilary Danailova

There are so many ways to have fun at a waterpark. But there are also a lot of ways things could potentially go wrong when you involve water, crowds, high-speed thrills and complex rides. So waterpark managers generally employ a series of safety precautions, with lifeguards and other personnel backed up by a system of regulations and routines.

“Each and every day, we go through a full, thorough inspection of every slide,” said Phil Hagmann, the water safety manager at Aqua Adventure in Fremont, Calif. In the hours before guests arrive, Hagmann’s staff climbs each slide to check the seams for chips and scratches that could injure a guest. Then they slide down themselves, just to make sure it feels right. “We check every inch of every slide, from the bottom to the top,” said Hagmann. “We ask: ‘Does it slide as well as it did yesterday?’ ”

An aerial view of Aqua Adventure’s attractions. Safety rules are recited to riders each time they ride a slide.

Once those guests do show up — 90,000 every year, from across the San Francisco Bay Area — the Aqua Adventure team makes sure to recite safety rules each time a rider steps up. “If they slide down the slide 12 times, they will hear it 12 times,” said Hagmann. “We want to make sure everyone understands how to be safe.”

Most waterparks have strict regulations for how tall a person has to be in order to safely ride. At Aqua Adventure, the minimum height is 48 inches, “and we measure every person who may be questionable,” said Hagmann. Meanwhile, the cutoff for giant water slides is 42 inches at Jungle Jim’s River Waterpark in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said Manager Kyle Sechrist. “We enforce that using the wristbands, so the lifeguards know what to look for,” Sechrist explained.

The Safari River Waterpark at Jungle Jim’s welcomes several hundred guests daily, and as many as 2,500 on a summer weekend day, Sechrist said. Visitors come from across Delaware, as well as nearby New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even New York for activities that include a spray pad, bumper boats and a rope climb. Sechrist noted that the park is often busiest midweek: “Usually when people come down here just for the weekend, they’ll go to the beach, whereas when they’re here for the full week, by Tuesday they’re tired of the beach and come here.”

To keep those crowds safe, Jungle Jim’s relies on a staff of lifeguards certified through the firm Ellis and Associates. Sechrist and his colleagues also send riders down slides in “big poufy safe tubes,” and put check marks on rides to let the lifeguards know when it’s safe to send down the next person. “We make sure the ride is slow enough to control the flow,” Sechrist explained, adding that with shallow water at the bottom, patrons can exit easily.

At Splash Aquatic Park in Golden, Colo., Manager Max Sweeney cordons off deeper water zones — four feet and more — where kids can lose their footing. And his team is constantly monitoring to ensure that currents from the water slides don’t affect the swimming areas. “That’s a big concern of ours,” Sweeney said.

A tipping bucket in a waterplay area at Aqua Adventure in Fremont, Calif. Slides are inspected thoroughly and daily at the attraction.

With about 400 daily guests from all over Colorado, the Splash team takes the morning safety check seriously. Something as small as a loose bolt can shut down a ride before opening, as happened recently, Sweeney said, forcing a quick repair job.

Managers pay particular attention to the popular FlowRider slides, which can be the highest-intensity attraction at a park geared to families, said Tyler Ward, waterpark manager for Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho.

To ensure the safety of FlowRider fans from across Idaho, Missouri and Washington State, Ward’s team has several counterintuitive precautions in place that protect guests. They range from a no-goggles rule — the ride’s force can push them into the eye, causing injury — to a prohibition on life jackets, whose buoyancy can strand a child on top of a wave rather than allowing a clean slide down.

Ward said that lifeguards are key to making sure all the rules are followed, a necessity with 100,000 annual visitors. “Consistency is the biggest thing,” said Ward. “If the first lifeguard of the morning makes sure there’s no standing on the FlowRider wave, then nobody else will try it.”

In Clarksville, Ind., Atlantis Water Park Manager Johnathon Hunt agreed that lifeguards are key to enforcing the park’s essential precautions, from a 48-inch height requirement to life vests. “I always tell the lifeguards, ‘Never hesitate. Better safe than sorry,’” Hunt said. “They’re always alert and aware of surroundings. Just like playing any sport — always in the ready position. The lifeguards are really the most important part of safety.”

Advice to Keep Guests from Acting Up

Tourist Attractions and Parks asked: “What is your best advice to keep guests behaving in a safe manner at your park?”

At Atlantis Water Park in Clarksville, Ind., Johnathon Hunt appeals to common sense to keep guests in line. “If they’re not following the rules, we give them a warning. I try to reason with them as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t make these rules just for the hell of it.”

Contrary to popular belief, children aren’t usually the worst offenders, observed Phil Hagmann at Aqua Adventure in Fremont, Calif. “Kids are used to rules. It’s adults, believe it or not, who are more difficult,” he noted. “In their mind, when they come in, all of a sudden they’re children again.” His solution: “If we explain that they are the examples to the kids, and what they do, the kids will do, then they get it.”

At Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho, Tyler Ward’s strategy is start off each day with a firm protocol that successive guests naturally tend to follow. “If you can get your first 15 minutes in the line trained, then everybody else kind of follows suit,” Ward explained. “That first lifeguard matters quite a bit — he or she has to hold guests accountable.”

Max Sweeney, who manages Splash Aquatic Park in Golden, Colo., and Kyle Sechrist at Jungle Jim’s River Waterpark in Rehoboth Beach, Del., agreed that lifeguards are important — both for their ability to whistle over high volume crowds, and for their employing a technique Sweeney calls “loud but assertive, saying please and thank you” while enforcing safety rules.

Sechrist said that balance of authority and courtesy is key to lifeguards’ effectiveness. “If you’re too aggressive, they won’t listen to you,” he said. Added Sweeney: “Lifeguards may seem like mean people, but they’re here to keep you safe.”


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