Your Guide to Water Park Safety

Three Kids Poolside

Bring on the heat! The weather’s warming up and school is ending, which means children are itching for some fun in the sun! What could be better than catching some rays, getting wet, and slipping down a slide all at the same time? Heading to the water park is a great way to get outdoors, get active, and cool down with family and friends this summer season! If this is an adventure on your calendar, here are a few tips to ensure your family is staying safe while slipping and splashing around!

Make sure your children know the basics of pool safety before you get to the waterpark. Once they see the slides and start to get excited, it’ll be harder to get their attention. If your child has an orthopedic or neurologic condition, talk to their physical or occupational therapist at least a week or so before the trip so they can help you and your child prepare and offer any additional tips.

You may want to consider signing your child up for lessons with a certified water safety instructor (WSI), who can help teach your child how to get in and out of a pool safely, tread water if they need to, and proper breathing techniques if he or she is in a situation where the water is over their head, as can happen on some attractions like wave pools or when they land in a pool at the bottom of a slide. Some water parks even offer swim lessons themselves. If a child is too young for lessons, they should always be kept within reach of a parent or guardian while at the park.

Goggles can also be a fun way to see underwater, as well as protect your eyes from bacteria and chlorine in pools!

It’s not a bad idea to do a few static stretches in the parking lot before you all enter the park. Water parks involve a lot of walking, standing in lines, and of course swimming. A gentle stretch will warm up their muscles and avoid cramps.  

As tempting as it may seem to dive right in, all pools should be entered feet first. Whether your child is splashing in from the side or slipping down a slide, entering an unfamiliar pool head first could be EXTREMELY dangerous. No matter how perfect their dive may be, the depths of the pool may not be so obvious. Never dive into water where the depth is unknown and the depth is not visible. Keep the fun rolling and always encourage “feet first.” (TIP: “Cannonball” splashes could be a fun way to incorporate fun and competition while also entering the pool safely.)

Most likely these two words will be posted throughout the park. However, we all know how children’s excitement can easily overrule a cautionary sign.

To avoid slips, trips, and falls, non-skid water shoes are ideal to continue the fun. Wearing a water shoe rather than walking barefoot will also protect your child’s tiny feet from hot pavement, as well as anything sharp that may be mistakenly laying on it.

If a child does slip, contact a lifeguard or other park employee right away and get them to first aid.

Always be on the look-out for the nearest lifeguard stand. They’re there for various reasons or needs that may come up in a crowded and slippery environment. Look for the nearest brightly dressed, whistle blowing employee just to be prepared! With the heavily populated areas in water parks, it can also be wise to dress your child in brightly colored clothing to easily spot them in crowds.

Even though you will be surrounded by water all day long, a day full of sun exposure and running around calls for plenty of hydration. Not only will being hydrated make a child tired and uncomfortable, but it can lead to painful muscle cramps, which can be especially dangerous in the water.

In addition to the recommended minimum of 6-8 glasses of water every day, higher temperatures and activity calls for higher water intake. Encourage at least 4 ounces of fluid for every 15-20 minutes of fun in the sun (TIP: 1 ounce = about one gulp). Sneak in hydration through water based fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, oranges, and strawberries, which will double as a refreshing cool-down snack!

If your child does get muscle and/or heat cramps, find a shady area to take a break and get them so fluids. If they feel sick or dizzy, find a water park employee to help get them to first aid.

Frequent application of sunscreen is a must during a day at the water park. The strength of the sun, increased skin exposure in bathing suits, and the sun’s attraction to water can leave you and your family with uncomfortable sunburns for the ride home. Look for terms such as “Broad Spectrum” and “Water Resistant” for optimal skin protection. Your child can even wear a rash-guard, which helps protect the skin from the sun and helps maintain adequate body temperature. Checking in with the UV Index on weather apps are good indicators for how often you’ll need to re-apply throughout the day. NEVER be fooled by a cloudy day – the UV Index still has the potential to be quite high and just as harmful as on a sunny, clear day.

Between the wave pools, lazy rivers, and slides, water parks can be a great way for all members of your family to enjoy the season – so lastly, have fun and ALWAYS swim with a buddy for twice the fun and twice the safety! Use these tips to make the best out of your trip and kick off your summer swimmingly!

Try not to let a recent injury put a damper on your summer plans. If your child had a recent surgery or injury, it may not be the optimal time to attend a crowded water park. However, upon clearance with your doctor, it is possible your child may still be able to enjoy a water play table or sprinkler right at home with a dry bag covering your child’s cast or bandage. These products are often sold at your local pharmacy or durable medical equipment store but be sure to check with your physician first!


Sabrina Cerciello is a doctor of physical therapy at the CA Technologies Pediatric Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

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