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How can I help ensure my child will be safe in and around the water at summer camp?

Phyllis Agran, MD, FAAP


​​​Swimming and other water activities are a fun part of many camp programs for children. It's important to choose a camp that take steps to keep kids safe in and around pools​, lakes, and other bodies of water.

If you're considering a camp for your child, here are some questions to ask:

Does the camp include water safety instruction?

Swim lessons and water safety instruction are important layers of protection against drowning for all children. If possible, start your child in swim lessons before camp begins. In addition, you may want to select a camp that offers high quality swim lessons as part of the water experiences.

What are the specific water activities at camp,​ and are they onsite?

Will campers be swimming, for example? What about other activities like paddleboarding and boating? It's also important to ask if the if the pool or body of water is near the campsite. If it is, check if there is a fence so that children cannot get to the pool or lake when it is not swimming time. The safety of off-campsite water experiences, like a visit to a water park​, also should be checked out.

It is a good idea to visit the campsite and speak with the staff before enrolling your child.

Are staff supervising and teaching the children trained and accredited?

If swimming lessons are offered, the instructors and lifeguards should be certified. Look at the website and search to see if the camp you are considering is accredited by the American Camp Association. Many states​ have regulations for both day camps and overnight camps. You can check your own state's regulation when deciding which camp to select.

What should I tell the camp about my child's water experience and swim skills?

A camp may ask about your child's swimming skills. If you're not sure, one resource is the American Red Cross mobile app (download or text: "SWIM" to 90999). Some camps will test your child's swim skills and then adjust water activities and supervision according to their skill level.

If your child has a medical condition or a disability that puts them at higher risk for drowning, make sure the camp has qualified staff to meet your child's needs. Medical conditions that raise a child's drowning risk include seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, autism, for example.

Should my child wear a life jacket during water activities?

All children should be required to wear U.S. Coast Guard certified life jackets ​when boating. In addition, small children and unskilled swimmers should wear life jackets when they are near water and when swimming (the exception is during swim lessons). Check to see that the camp follows these guidelines.

Does the camp follow the COVID-19 guidelines for both day and overnight camps?

This includes sending them home if they are not feeling well, have had a fever within the last couple of days, or have had close contact with someone with COVID-19​ within the past two weeks. Also ask if unvaccinated visitors and camp staff are screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

Does the camp follow COVID-19 guidelines for public pool and water playgrounds as well?

This is especially important for children too young to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Guidelines includes physical distancing, masks​ when not in the water, hand hygiene stations, avoiding shared objects, and cleaning and disinfecting all areas.


Camp can be a wonderful experience for kids. But keeping them safe and healthy is key. Talk with your pediatrician if you have questions about choosing a safe camp for your child.

More information

Phyllis Agran, MD, FAAP

Phyllis Agran, MD, FAAP, serves on the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. A recipient of the council’s Fellow Achievement Award in recognition of her commitment to youth violence prevention and pedestrian safety, including her work with the National Safe Routes to School Task Force, Dr. Agran has testified at local, state and national hearings to promote child health and safety policies. She is past president of AAP California Chapter 4 and a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. ​​

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2021)
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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