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5 Things You Need to Know About Water Parks, But Probably Don’t

5 Things You Need to Know About Water Parks, But Probably Don't 5 Things You Need to Know About Water Parks, But Probably Don't

There are 1,300 water parks in the United States, and 85 million people visit them each year. 

As a parent, it's important to know what to look for if you are planning a trip to an indoor or outdoor water park.

Here is some information and reminders from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help keep your family safe and healthy.

1. Know the rules.

Water slides are the number one cause of injuries at water parks. So, follow ride directions. Rules like "feet first" are there for a reason―to keep riders safe.

In 2015, 4,200 people visited hospitals for water park-related injuries with the most common being scrapes, cuts, broken bones, concussions, and spinal injuries.

Always pay attention to the size and weight restrictions on water park rides. Riders who are too small can be thrown from the ride. Riders that exceed the maximums can get stuck in chutes or build up excessive speed and exit the ride too fast. Also, watch for the maximum number of riders allowed. If signs say limited to two riders per ride, don't pile four on trying to break a record. Make sure your children understand the need to follow the rules.

2. Know your swimmer.

National data shows fatal and nonfatal drownings have occurred at U.S. water parks. It can happen to anyone. Know the risks and take steps to prevent a drowning tragedy.

What water park feature carries the biggest drowning risk?

The answer: wave pools. Wave pools can be dangerous for smaller children or weak swimmers and can be chaotic with large numbers of people bobbing in the water. This can also make it very difficult to spot a swimmer in trouble, who could look like just another swimmer enjoying the waves. Close parental supervision is all the more important. Parents, stay within arm's reach of young or weak swimmers. Keep your eyes on your children, and strongly consider putting your swimmer in a life jacket.

3. Know what's in the water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms that can rinse off and contaminate water. The CDC also reports that in one year, 58% of public pools tested positive for E. coli―a marker of fecal contamination. Yuck! Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium) has a high tolerance to chlorine that enables this parasite to survive for long periods in chlorinated swimming pool water. Both E. coli and Crypto can make swimmers very ill, sometimes leading to hospitalization.

​What parents can do to prevent water-borne illnesses:

  • Teach your child never to drink pool water. Provide clean drinking water if children are thirsty.

  • Take your child for bathroom breaks about once an hour.

  • Check swim diapers every 30-60 minutes.

  • Avoid sitting on water jets.

  • If your child is ill―especially with diarrhea―do not visit the water park.

  • Shower before swimming, particularly if your child has been playing in other areas of the water park such as sandboxes, can help rinse bacteria from the skin and reduce contamination.

  • Shower again before heading home. Doing this removes chlorine from the skin, helping to prevent skin irritation.

4. Know who is watching—and who's not.

Did you know that the federal government does not monitor or regulate fixed-site amusement parks―many of which contain water parks? It's unfortunately true! In 1980, Congress handed over control of these parks to state and local governments. Federal safety officials are not allowed to address safety problems at these parks, so a patchwork of local and state authorities bear the responsibility of safety oversight for amusement park rides. This means there is no consistent standard of regulation.

So, what does this mean? Should parents be worried? 

Each state decides what level of regulation and monitoring they want to assume. Some states are strict, but other states elect for minimum involvement, making some parks self-regulated. In fact, pop-up carnivals have more government regulation than fixed-site amusement parks!

The AAP suggests looking into how the water park of your choice is monitored and regulated. has a list of how amusement parks are regulated by each state. There is also a chart showing how injuries are to be reported and whether there are public records of reported injuries.

5. Think outside the pool.

So now that you've considered swim rules, swimmer safety, and health issues, there are a few more general tips that can help ensure your day at the park remains positive. As always, it's important to bring and use sunscreen if you will be outdoors. You should also bring water to keep everyone hydrated.

​Here are a few more ideas to keep everyone safe and happy:

  • Whether it's an indoor or outdoor park, water shoes can be a good investment. Pool deck surfaces can get slippery from a mix of water and sunscreen. Water shoes can give little feet extra traction and protect them from surfaces that can be rough such as pool bottoms.

  • Schedule in activity breaks throughout the day. Kids burn about 288 calories an hour playing in the pool. That kind of activity level can tire young swimmers, so it's important to exit the water periodically and rest. This is a good time to recharge in the shade with a snack and a bathroom break.

  • Walk, don't run. Pool decks are slippery, and parks can get crowded.

  • Get a map of the park and identify a meeting spot in case your family gets separated.

  • Children and others who lack strong swim skills should also wear life jackets when at a pool or water park. Some parks require swimmers to wear these, and staff can help you ensure the device is the right size and fitted correctly for your child. Even when they wear life jackets, young children and those who cannot swim well need an adult who can swim within arm's reach providing touch supervision.

  • Remember that lifeguards are just one layer of prevention against drowning.  Close, attentive, capable supervision when your child is in or around water is essential. Even when they wear life jackets, young children and those who cannot swim well need an adult who can swim within arm’s reach providing touch supervision.

Additional Information:  

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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