Water Play

This article is designed to serve as an introduction to managing water sports equipment and I'm pleased to incorporate the thinking of Walker and Seidler (1993) regarding the organization of various key concepts, presented within each of the management steps identified below.

Further, I've adopted, for the purpose of this introduction, the following definitions …

Non-disposable equipment: Those items that have a life expectancy of several years or seasons; or are relatively expensive, like water polo goals, starting platforms, springboard diving boards, and so forth.

Disposable equipment: Those items that have a life expectancy of a season or less or may be good for a couple of seasons, but are relatively inexpensive, like goggles, swim caps, life vests and other like items.

Fixed equipment: Those items that are, by their nature, stationary and cannot be moved, like docks, outdoor lighting, canoe racks, and so on.

Portable equipment: Those items that are, by their nature, movable from one location to another, like portable guard stands, equipment carts and lane and safety lines.

Water sports equipment: Equipment that serves as an activity-related, tool or implement, in an aquatic sports or play environment.

Frequently, as program managers, we forget that fewer rules may require and nurture more imagination (the author's plug for developing creative and physically active lifestyles).

However, as equipment managers (perhaps only another hat for the same person), providing the proper equipment for water play or sport, is our responsibility.

The Selection Process

To select the proper equipment for water sports, the manager must focus on both the program and operation of the specific aquatic environment.

Of primary consideration for any manager will be maintaining safety in the aquatic environment related to its operation. A concurrent consideration is the quality and utility of selected water sports equipment.

Risk management regarding legal liability and various safety factors are discussed later. However, the first step in the selection process is to determine your programmatic needs. Nobody needs water sports equipment of poor quality, or that is unsafe to use.

Therefore it is essential that the manager identify the equipment needs based upon aspects of utility, quality and safety. To the extent that a program requires so many sets of a specific type of safety gear, like water polo caps with ear guards, the need is defined by the rules of the sport.

When the rules specify that each participant must have on a cap, then there is a finite number required to offer the activity (safety). Having a few extras, and allowing for two teams (two colors), will help determine the number needed to play (utility).

At this point, the final consideration takes into account aspects of budget and wear (quality).

The manager must have a clear understanding of the aquatic environment -- the operations and program -- to complete a needs assessment and offer up a listing of disposable and non-disposable items required.

Walker and Siedler identified a comprehensive listing of the areas to consider when conducting a needs assessment, including:

• Available space and facilities (consider the operation)

• Desired activities (consider the program)

• Safety and health of the participants (consider the established standards for safety and health)

• Number of participants (consider the established standards per participant)

• Cost (consider the initial cost, maintenance/repair, and product warranty)

• Staff and supervision (consider involving those who will be working/supervising operations)

• Instructor/coach input (consider involving those who will be implementing programs)

• Continual learning (consider the need to stay on top of changes in various products)

• Storage (consider storage requirements)

• Age/gender/skills/physical and mental abilities (consider the nature of the participants)

• Type of organization (consider the profit status and mission)

• Length of season (consider how long the equipment will be in continual use)

• Geographic location (consider the location, climate, and local environment)

• Fit (consider the need for proper sizing of all protective equipment)

• Inventory (consider what you already have to work with)

• Prioritizing (consider prioritizing your list going from needs to wants from high to low)

Inventory, Control & Accountability

The manager of water sports equipment has to take responsibility for the inventory, control and accountability of the equipment. Unless the manager is going to be present during all times when equipment is issued, returned and stored, policies and procedures need to be in place so that these key aspects of the job function are handled deliberately by everyone on staff.

Before, during and after each season, the manager must maintain a proper inventory of the water sports equipment. Before and after each season, the manager should check each item, using both product maintenance and warranty information, to determine its status.

It is in this stage of the inventory process that the manager can best determine if an item should be taken out of service. Years in service and the product warranty help inform this decision.

The fact that the manufacturer is rarely liable for equipment failure outside of the warranty period suggests that the manager should always consider retirement of any such disposable equipment, like diving masks and life vests.

Further consideration can be given to those non-disposable items that might be out of warranty, providing their condition can be properly evaluated and determined in "warranty condition" by an insured service provider, like a springboard diving board.

Outside of the pre- and post-program inventories, equipment control is maintained through regular issue and collection of equipment.

Not to be confused with equipment maintenance (see below), the manager of water sports equipment should create a regular checklist for all equipment in and out -- a who, what, when, where and why listing that lets you know where everything is (or was).

Upon return, the user should be asked if the equipment worked satisfactorily, and each item gets at least a visual inspection before storing (some equipment may require specialized inspection and service after every use, like SCUBA tanks and equipment and various kinds of water craft).

Control means that you either have the equipment in your control or you know where the equipment is… And, your daily procedures ensure that only working-inspected equipment is re-issued.

If there is damage to an item, and the user is expected to be responsible, the issue and collection procedures will need to include some kind of collateral deposit/refund procedure.

Accountability reflects the responsibilities of both inventory and control. With technology, maintaining excellent records of all equipment, time in service, inspections, maintenance/repair, and warranty are made easier (there is still a commitment of time).

To ensure that your water sports equipment is what it needs to be, throughout the season/year the manager must maintain good records. And, these records should be able to hold up in court.

Maintenance, Storage & Storeroom Management

With regard to maintenance, storage, and storeroom management, the "Type A" manager usually does this the best. For all the effort required, these three aspects of water sports equipment management will do more for the "bottom line" than nearly any other area except for risk management (legal liability and safety factors-below).

The maintenance of water sports equipment begins the first time an item is placed into service. With disposable water sports equipment, the expectation is that the equipment will be managed in a way that will allow for a reasonable turn-around period, and will remain usable for a reasonable length of time.

An item such as a life vest, if placed on a drying rack with its straps carefully wrapped and secured, will be ready to re-issue much more quickly than one left on the ground in a pile with others.

The occasion where the vest remains wet for extended periods of time, especially in warm weather, almost ensures mildew or mold (which can also affect the user adversely if they have allergies to mold and mildew). Once mildew and mold set-in to a life vest, it becomes much more difficult to clean and/or re-use.

Many other disposable items require the same care or share the same fate. Fresh water to rinse off all water sports equipment used in a chlorine pool will help prolong the life of the equipment. Drying racks and creating places where equipment can be stored so that it is kept clean and dry will payoff in the equipment's length of service.

Damaged equipment or items that need any kind of repair to make them serviceable should be taken out of service immediately and attended to deliberately.

A strap that has started to pull loose on a life vest should not be used again until it is properly mended. Leaks in watercraft and springboards that require re-coating to maintain a higher co-efficient of friction between diver and board, should also be attended to immediately or before the item is put back into service.

Remember the accountability section above? This is a good time to note that any time an item is maintained or repaired it should be acknowledged appropriately.

Whereas the manager need not necessarily tally every single time a set of flippers or a dive mask are used, the manager will want to note when a hose is replaced on a SCUBA tank, or the tanks are re-tested.

Storage and storeroom management share a common theme -- equipment care. Once the water sports equipment is ready to be stored (most usually at the end of a day or when the items will no longer be used on a day) it is taken to the storeroom or storage room.

Storerooms with adequate ventilation and floor drains may appropriately accept wet, but clean items. However, the first sign of mildew or mold will inform the manager that the storeroom is not adequately serving as a storage facility and drying room.

The limitations of some HVAC systems may prohibit extensive drying forcing the manager to find other ways to dry equipment before putting it away into storage.

Following a plan of equipment rotation may also allow for all equipment to be completely dry before re-issue. Again, drying racks outside of storage may be the best solution.

The storage room itself should be appropriately designed for effective organization of equipment and efficient utilization of space. Shelves, racks, hooks, and other items that will be holding or supporting equipment, should be properly secured to floors/walls and carefully placed so that they can do no harm to the user.

The kind of shelving materials (metal vs. wood) and the way these materials allow for some ventilation are worth consideration. Indoor specifications for pools nearly always call for stainless steel doors and other exposed metal parts. Wood will absorb moisture unless it is properly coated, and will suffer from dry rot over a long period of time if not allowed to dry out correctly.

Hanging equipment on the walls or from the ceiling can help keep the storeroom floor clear of loose equipment (like lane and safety lines, ring buoys and rescue tubes), but all items need to be hung so as to avoid head injuries if someone walks into one.

Storage rooms should be designed to have ample space for all portable equipment in need of a secure place. Large, bulky items should be easily acquired through access doors, and placed closest to the floor if and when they are set on shelves. Special racks for SCUBA tanks can assist with both effective organization and safety.

The well-organized storeroom will facilitate equipment inventory and control, especially if only inspected and ready to be re-issued equipment is placed into the room.

Access to this room should require a level of authorization that includes staff, but precludes program participants, unless supervised (even then, there should be very limited access).

Adequate storage is nearly always a challenge, and a good manager will work hard to take advantage of every bit of space allocated for this purpose.

Liability & Safety

Some mention has already been made with regard to issues of product warranty and other aspects of risk management. The legal liability of the manager of water sports equipment is to meet a standard of care that is reasonable.

Waivers are sometimes used in water sports programs where the organization finds it beneficial for the user to fully understand the inherent risk of the activity, as noted in the waiver.

The strength of a waiver depends upon the ability of a participant to assume the risk. However, even with such an assumption, the participant does not waive their right to litigation in the event of negligent behavior on the part of the organization, its staff and/or related users (or even unrelated users).

The equipment is an easy focus if an accident/injury occurs and there is evidence of improper care or maintenance, of the same.

Good risk management is the best way to decrease the probability of litigation due to negligence.

The manager of water sports equipment must consider the issues of equipment selection; equipment purchase; inventory, control and accountability; maintenance, storage and storeroom management; and, strive to put into place policies and procedures that will reinforce the strategies that best manage these issues.

Further, the policies and procedures that are in place must be followed. The easiest way to prove your own negligent behavior is to ignore your own rules.

If your policy requires an inspection and testing of the SCUBA regulator prior to re-issue, do not fail to perform this inspection/test (or fail to record the date of the inspection and/or the results of the test).

You determined the policy and you know the policy, therefore you need to make sure the policy is followed!

Other Considerations

ADA compliance: Recent legislation regarding accessibility and recreational facilities include new standards for boating facilities, and swimming pools, wading pools and spas (go to www.access-board.gov/recreation/summary.htm).

The concept of inclusion needs to be a part of all programs available to the public in general. If your program needs to meet federal regulations regarding disability access, you must also have clear policies and procedures that afford reasonable accommodation for disabled participants.

Compliance with Title IX (government funded, educational organizations): Organizations that receive federal funding are required to provide equal access to educational opportunities/experiences.

Although some aspects of Title IX legislation are under review; recommendations regarding equal access will not likely modify the need to act responsively to changes in demand for water sports activities and therefore equipment.

Most often overlooked are programs that must meet Title IX that fail to offer equality in funding for equipment and facilities of otherwise similar programs, like men's and women's swim teams or water polo teams.

Compliance with the OSHAct: The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides for a shared responsibility between the employer and employee for the quality of the work environment.

In the event that an employee is injured in the course of their work, the employer is obligated to provide certain compensation for such loss in work or health.

The policies and procedures established for the operation, the quality of the water sports equipment, and aspects of equipment use and storage all require a planned approach to staff development within the organization.

With regard to aquatic environments that utilize chemicals as part of filtration and water sanitation all employees must be given access to the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for any chemicals that are used and/or stored in the work environment.

The specific chemicals that an employee is exposed to while on the job inform such access. The MSDS forms should be kept in a notebook, and made available in a space designated for this and other Human Resources information.


Dworkin, Gerry (2003). Maintaining Safety. Parks & Rec Business, January 2003. Available on-line at www.northstarpubs.com/predit0103Maintain.html.

Walker, M. L. & Seidler, T. L. (1993). Sports equipment management. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Dr. Richard J. LaRue is Chair of Exercise and Sport Performance, University of New England.