14 Best Practice Guidelines for Aquatics, Pools, & Hydrotherapy

While aquatic facilities can be a huge asset and an important way to differentiate your business from competitors, it is important that all facilities be well-run, properly supervised, clean, and appropriately maintained.

Paula Neubert, president and general manager of Club Greenwood, and Paul Hackett, a Chartered safety & health practitioner and OSHCR registered consultant, contributed to this article.

Aquatics and pool facilities and programming was the fifth ranked profit-center for fitness-only facilities in IHRSA’s 2019 Profiles of Success, accounting for 1.6% of total revenue at top-tier fitness-only clubs. Pool access, swimming instruction, aquatic aerobics, and other offerings not covered by membership dues can all add to the bottom line. Swimming has also been ranked as one of the top aspirational activities for inactive individuals.

Read on for aquatics, pools, and hydrotherapy best practices and explore additional IHRSA resources to learn more.

This article is one in a series of 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility.

Best Practice Guidelines to Keep Your Aquatics Facility Running Smoothly

Swimming facilities can be a great way to attract less active consumers. The guidelines for smoothly running aquatics facilities have been broken down into three categories:

  1. Qualifications and Training for Aquatics Staff

  2. Swimming Pool Maintenance and Operations

  3. Keeping a Safe Water Environment in Hydrotherapy Pools

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Qualifications and Training for Aquatics Staff

1. Require all coaches, swim instructors, and lifeguards to maintain a nationally recognized certification and complete continuing education requirements as well as professional qualifications. One may consider background checks for employees who are working with children or adults with special needs.

2. Ensure a lifeguard and other technical skills employees—i.e., pool operator/technician, building engineer, etc.—are on duty as required by local guidelines.

3. Lifeguards should be tested for competence in their ability to assist swimmers in need of assistance every month or so. These competence tests should include realistic exercises observed by an assessor from the management team. Lifeguards should train regularly.

4. Swimming pool plant engineers and technicians should have a reasonable level of generic training and, where possible, site specific training.

Swimming Pool Maintenance and Operations

5. Consider a lifeguard zone in each watch area corresponding to pool occupancy. Lifeguard zones should consider not only areas but activities undertaken and type of swimmers. For example, children's swim areas need more supervision than adult lap zones.

6. Consider offering a learn to swim program for all age groups. Learn to swim programs are not only good in a business sense, but also add a huge amount to a local community—the promotional and marketing opportunities are immense.

7. Post rules and safety protocols within plain eyesight of all wet areas, including capacity rules, where relevant, and mandatory signage.

8. Follow nationally and locally recognized guidelines for chemical ranges and testing frequency where applicable. Maintain records of all testing logs. Check expiration date on all chemicals before use and store in a safe, secure area at manufacturer recommended temperature.

9. Ensure all emergency and rescue equipment is in good working condition. Equipment should be inspected weekly and tested monthly to ensure it is still operative and that staff understand how to operate it.

10. Maintain a fully stocked first aid kit. First aid kits should be stocked according to a risk assessment for the types of activities and potential injuries that the areas are likely to experience.

11. Keep records of any incident or injuries.

12. Ensure the appropriate number of employees are trained on first aid, CPR, and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) where required. At least one person on duty at all times should have the required first aid skills. As a general rule, all employees should be capable of using an AED and delivering CPR.

Keeping a Safe Water Environment in Hydrotherapy Pools

13. Hot tubs, spa pools, or whirlpools should never exceed a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit/40 degrees Celsius. Consult with a physician before using while pregnant and prohibit use by children under age five. Children under five may not have a fully developed thermoregulatory system, so they should not use a spa. The warm temperature of spa pools could pose a risk of ill health to users who are pregnant, have cardiovascular problems, or are subject to seizures. People taking medication for cardiovascular or nervous system conditions and those with physical disabilities should seek medical advice before using a spa pool. Shortening exposure time and using notices to warn users can help control the risk. While temperature mainly affects users, particularly young children, the high temperature and humidity around the spa pool could also affect people working near it for long periods.

14. Maintain a temperature of 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit/10-13 degrees Celsius for cold plunge pools. Prolonged immersion in water above body temperature can lead to delayed shock. The temperature of a plunge pool should be cool, in some cultures it may even be a freezing pond. The users will need to be sure of their heart condition if they use a plunge that is freezing. The microbiological quality of the water should be tested frequently and replaced with fresh water as needed. If water is retained, rather than fill and empty a regime of disinfection, filtration and circulation should be maintained.

This article is part of the 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility series, where we’ll cover topics like customer retention, group fitness, spa services, and more in upcoming articles.

Additional Aquatic, Pools, & Hydrotherapy Resources for Fitness Professionals

2019 Profiles of Success: (Member discount; Free to Premium Members!) This report provides benchmarks, operational, and financial data from leading fitness companies. It includes information on revenue, membership growth and retention, and profit centers such as pools.

How to Keep Kids Safe at Your Club: This article discusses the risks associated with children’s programming—including at pools—and highlights safety and legal issues your business could face when working with children.

Pool, Hot Tub, & Sauna Safety During COVID-19: IHRSA experts share pool, sauna, and steam room safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This article includes statements and infographics from the World Health Organization (WHO), which reiterates that swimming pools are safe.

Proper Pool Maintenance Key to a Safe Reopening for Clubs: This article discusses key considerations for reopening pools, spas, hydrotherapy, or other water-based facilities after they have been closed down.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.