The Aquatic Art

By Kris Ebner Martin
Photos Courtesy of Camps Awosting and Chinqueka

Formerly, the term “aquatic” in organized camping meant teaching swimming and boating—period. Rowing, canoeing, and swim classifications included “beginner” and “advanced.” As an old-school Water Safety Instructor (WSI), I taught strokes like the inverted breaststroke and the double trudgeon crawl! Only one organization offered certification programs for WSIs, lifeguards, and boating instructors—the American Red Cross (ARC). Now, I don’t consider myself old, but the aquatic experience certainly has come a long way since I took my first swim class more than 40 years ago. With advances in water and boating safety and instruction, the programs available to camps have expanded and become more specialized.

Selecting Employees For A Program
The type of program determines the type of aquatic-certified personnel needed. Facilities that run their entire program from a pool can employ “basic” lifeguards, who have just completed their certification in a pool and can guard in a pool setting. Those who will be lifeguarding at a waterfront or a wave pool require additional training. Prior to hiring for a new season, consider the types of lifeguards needed and where they will receive their certification.

Of course, camps that run a varied program will need more than just lifeguards. Camps that teach swimming will want WSIs on staff, especially if instructors will be issuing level-completion cards. These days, however, instructors are not always certified lifeguards. If a program requires instructors to be lifeguards, be sure to check their certification cards. You may even need to ask a prospective employee to complete a lifeguarding course.

Any boating program should have staff members certified in the boating specialty. A number of organizations offer certification courses in boating, including rowing, canoeing, kayaking, or sailing. Again, for camps that offer course-completion cards, instructors must be certified.

Obtaining Certification
While most camp directors are aware of all of the required certifications, they must also know where staff members can take the courses as well as how the courses are taught. Blended-learning courses now incorporate technology as well as practical skills, giving students the option of completing book work online and then going to a local pool for their skills and water tests. A camp director should make sure employees have certification and not just a course-completion certificate. The difference is important, especially in terms of liability.

1. Lifeguarding
Several options are available for lifeguarding certification. Many camp directors know of the ARC, the YMCA, and maybe even Ellis & Associates. All are reputable lifeguarding programs. There is also the American Lifeguarding Association (ALA), which is not to be confused with the U.S. Lifeguarding Association (USLA). The ALA offers two certifications—lifeguard for shallow water only, and lifeguard for shallow and deep waters. The USLA does not certify individuals—only agencies that have been approved to teach its courses. To round out the list, the Boy Scouts of America, the U.S. Coast Guard, a company called H2O Pro, and the National Lifesaving and Aquatics organization also offer lifeguarding certification. Typically, these programs start with a core lifeguarding course (pool) and then offer additional modules or components, like waterpark or waterfront training.

2. Swimming Instructors
For swimming instructors, the ARC’s WSI program remains the standard for the industry. Another major player is the YMCA. Some YMCAs offer the Y course, and some offer the Red Cross course. More recently, Ellis & Associates created its Jeff Ellis Swimming Instructor Program; Starfish Aquatics has an instructor program, as does Swim Lessons University and the Boy Scouts. Some of these programs require swim instructors to also hold lifeguard certification, so this must be checked out.

Just a note about first aid and CPR before discussing the boating areas: most state health departments only recognize courses for first aid and CPR offered by the ARC and the American Heart Association (AHA). ARC or AHA should be included in the lifeguarding certification; a CPR component can be offered instead of ARC or AHA. The CPR usually is in line with the core standards of International Consensus on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care with Treatment Recommendations (CoSTR), but may not meet state requirements.

Boating
While some camps don’t offer boating, those that do have several options available. Unfortunately, there is no longer any certification program for rowing (with rowboats, not sculls).

1. Canoeing
For canoeing, the ARC offers a Small Craft Safety course with canoeing and kayaking modules. Training for kayaking uses sit-in boats with skirts. This certification covers all types of kayaks, from required to properly supervise campers.

sit-in to sit-on. The American Canoe Association also offers canoeing and kayaking certifications, for flat water or moving water in either craft. Flat-water canoeing is the most popular, as most camps use a lake or pond for boating. Be sure, however, that staff members have the proper certification for the appropriate type of water—flat, moving, or white.

2. Sailing
Sailing certification is also offered in the ARC Small Craft Safety program and by the American Sailing Association. The U.S. Sailing programs are unique in offering the Sailing Counselor Course, specifically designed for people who will be teaching sailing at a summer camp. Courses are offered in small-boat and keel-boat sailing as well. The instructor courses are based on levels, so a Level 1 instructor is a more basic certification than a Level 2 instructor, and is probably appropriate for most camp settings.

Instructor certifications are usually good for one year, unless the instructor teaches a course of record, then the certification is extended another year. ARC basic courses never expire, but one cannot issue certificates without being an instructor.

All camp directors should check the state safety regulations and guidelines before hiring staff to teach any water activities. With all of the new fun toys for water play, including water slides, trampolines, blobs, and other specialty equipment, camp or staff members may require a special license, certification, or training.

Kris Ebner Martin is a third-generation camp director at Ebner Camps, Inc., in Connecticut . Kris has been a camper, CIT, counselor, etc. for her whole life. Reach her at info@chinqueka.com .