Recreational swimming

Recreational swimming occurs when learning swimming and water safety is not the main objective of the activity. 

Recreational swimming is often less structured than sessions designed to teach swimming and water safety, and may occur in a wider than usual range of environments.  For this reason, and to provide quality supervision, the requirements vary for recreational swimming at various types of venues.  For swimming sessions designed to teach swimming and water safety see: School Policy and Advisory Guide, Swimming Instruction and Water Safety

Definitions

Staff - any adult approved by the school council who provides supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity or excursion.

Teacher - a staff member registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching who provides a supervisory role on a program.

The following roles can be filled by school staff, a teacher or an external provider. An assistant instructor role may be filled by a volunteer (See: Volunteers in Schools):

  • Designated Instructor - the appointed staff member on a program who provides the lead technical expertise and supervision for the activity.
  • Instructor - a staff member who provides professional, technical expertise and supervision for the activity.
  • Assistant Instructor - a staff member who provides assistance to the instructor(s) in the provision of technical expertise and supervision for the activity.
  • Aquatic excursion supervision and qualifications in these guidelines are built around the following location type definitions:

    Swimming pools - includes all swimming pools: public, private, school, body corporate, hotel and natural swimming pools if clearly defined and designated as a swimming pool. Swimming pool water should be shallow and clear with participants under the water visible.

    Inland waterways - inland waterways can be dams, lakes, reservoirs and very slow flowing rivers with no swiftwater features. Inland waterways may have widely varying depths, water visibility, turbidity, temperatures and hazards.

    Swiftwater - flowing river water which may be categorised according to the international river classification system. This covers water commonly known as moving water or white water but also refers to flowing water which may not look either ‘swift’ or ‘white’ to an observer.

    Enclosed waterways - are any declared port waters by Maritime Safety Victoria and include areas such as bays, non-surf beaches, channels, inlets and estuaries. See the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook for all listed port waters.

    Coastal Inshore waterways - include all beaches with direct access to ocean waters, any beach exposed to ocean swell, and any beach that is exposed to currents, rips, strong winds or surf. This may include enclosed waterways at times with these features.

    Coastal offshore - all waters greater than two nautical miles from the coast.

    International river classification system

    Grade 1: slow to fast moving water with few or no obstacles. There may be river features such as strong currents, ripples and eddy lines present. Passages are wide open and easily discerned from the river.

    Grade 2: well defined rapids with small obstacles and regular features such as waves. Passages are open and obvious without scouting, but may require manoeuvring.

    Grade 3: rapids with regular features that require manoeuvring to negotiate. Passages can be narrow and features such as holes and irregular waves must be run to negotiate the rapid. There is a higher risk of injury.

    Grade 4: rapids with highly irregular features. Complicated passages that often include vertical drops and may require scouting to find safe passages. Linked manoeuvres are required in convoluted passages. Increased risk of injury and possible risk to life.

    Grade 5: rapids with violent and irregular features. Extremely congested passages that require scouting to determine safe routes. Most Grade 5 rapids include vertical drops and require running large-scale features in a complex series of manoeuvres. Definite risk of serious injury and possible risk to life.

    Grade 6: the difficulties of Grade 5 taken to the extreme. Rapids with extremely violent and complicated features where experts require considerable advance scouting and planning to determine possible passages. All Grade 6 rapids require the paddler/s to negotiate powerful rapids and large technical features. Always a risk to life. Generally only possible at certain water levels.

    Environment

    Water environments

    Recreational swimming environments may include dams, natural inland lakes and rivers, and marine and coastal environments.  These natural venues require sensitive use and management.  These environments offer opportunities for personal challenge and reflection as well as for studying unique flora and fauna, however they are very susceptible to long-lasting damage from human activity.

    A wide range of environmental factors need to be considered when planning recreational swimming activities.  These include the location, size, depth and turbidity of the body of water; the wind and sun; the strength of tides and currents; the presence and power of waves; and the water and air temperatures.

    When preparing for recreational swimming, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity.

    Location

    Due to the unique nature of each location, the teacher responsible for the activity should specifically assess the suitability of the location before the excursion.

    The choice of location should be based on the recent and first-hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff.  Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and should have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

    When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

    • the potential to support the educational objectives
    • the level of access to resources, services and facilities that may be needed, such as campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
    • the level of access to communications and external assistance in the event of an emergency or extreme weather conditions — the more remote the location is, the more self-contained and self-reliant the group must be and this must be taken into account in the planning of the activity
    • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
    • the ability and fitness levels of students.

    Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access current information and determine any access and permit requirements.

    These authorities may include:

    Staff need to be aware that severe weather conditions may develop before or during the proposed activity and should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

    Given the range of different conditions that may exist between apparently similar recreational swimming venues, adequate knowledge of the specific venue should be obtained before activities are conducted.

    Note: If environmental conditions change, a type 1 venue may change to a type 2 or 3 venue. Type 2 or 3 venues may also change with environmental conditions. 

    Communication

    The communication strategy should enable staff to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

    • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology and the location of the activity.
    • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the activity which enables communication with outside parties, including the school and emergency services.
    • Be aware of the limitations of the communication strategy.
    Weather

    Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the activity and on the day the activity commences.  If the excursion extends overnight, access weather forecasts and warnings daily and monitor and assess the weather throughout.

    Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

    Weather conditions can change rapidly.  Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at anytime.

    Weather warning telephone services

    • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings on 1300 659 217
    • Full State Telephone Weather Service on 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
    • Coastal Waters Telephone Service on 1900 969 930 (call charge applies)
    • Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667.

    The above telephone numbers may be useful to have available during the excursion.

    Web links

    Transportation

    The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered and planned. See: Excursion support – transport.

    Activity

    Student preparation and skills

    Planning for activities must begin with an assessment of students’ current knowledge, skills and experience in water environments for recreational swimming.

    The preparation of students to be safe recreational swimmers will vary according to their age, ability and experience and to the location and the nature of the proposed swimming activity.

    The instructor should ascertain the previous experience of each student. Instructional staff must brief students on:

    • equipment, clothing and footwear that is suitable for the activity and location
    • safety measures appropriate to control risks associated with the activity and the environment
    • minimal environmental impact techniques relevant to the activity and location
    • historical and cultural considerations relevant to the activity and location
    • activity scope and boundaries
    • communication and communication signals
    • relevant terminology.

    Please refer to Definitions above for a description of different waterways.

    Swimming pools

    Students must be given directions about safe swimming, appropriate boundaries, standards of behaviour and emergency procedures relevant to the particular location.

    Inland waterways

    In addition to the skills required for inland waterways, students taking part in recreational swimming activities in open water must also be able to competently demonstrate the following skills:

    • a jump entry
    • survival sculling, floating and treading water for five minutes, followed by a slow swim for five minutes
    • feet-first and head-first surface entry
    • floating for one minute using a flotation aid, then swimming continuously and efficiently for 200 meters using one or more recognised strokes.

    Enclosed and coastal waterways

    In addition to the skills required for swimming pool locations, students must have recently demonstrated the ability to swim 200 meters and demonstrate basic swimming and water safety skills, including:

    • using a flotation aid as a support for one minute
    • survival sculling, floating or treading water for five minutes
    • waving one arm as if signalling for help
    • the ability to submerge and resurface competently

    In coastal waterways and surf, students must know surf swimming techniques, for example, swimming through waves and body surfing. Emphasis should be placed on teaching students about the changing nature of the sea bed and the dangers associated with diving under waves in shallow water.

    Before entering the water, students must understand:

    • coastal and surf hazards
    • how to identify a rip
    • how to swim if caught in a rip
    • safe areas and exit points to escape from rips and other hazards
    • the designated surfing area, indicated by flags and landmarks
    • safety and emergency procedures and considerations for the surf location
    • surf signals and the need to watch carefully for signals at all times

    Swift waterways

    For swimming in rivers, students must be taught about relevant river hydrology features and dangers and how to avoid them. Students entering a river environment must understand dangers such as holes, foot entrapments, strainers, sieves and the power of flowing water.

    Students must be trained in whitewater swimming and rescue techniques before swimming in swiftwater. Students must understand:

    • how to swim in swiftwater including defensive swimming and aggressive swimming positions
    • throw bag retrieval rescues
    • how to signal for help
    • how to identify safe areas and eddies
    • how to identify holes, strainers and sieves
    • safety and emergency procedures for rivers
    • river signals and the need to watch carefully for signals at all times

    See Canoeing and Kayaking for further information about swiftwater river environments.

    Under no circumstance should students be pressured by staff or peers to participate beyond their readiness.

    Preparation should also include supporting the mental health and well-being of students and is as important as physical preparation.

    For more information, see: Excursion Support Student Preparation Section.

    Equipment and clothing

    Equipment, whether hired, borrowed or owned by the school or students, must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.

    Staff members must wear clearly identifiable clothing so they can be easily located.

    Each staff member must carry a whistle or other device for signalling swimmers and other staff.

    An assessment of the swimming venue (venue type, water conditions, rescue equipment on site) and the ability of the swimmers must be undertaken to identify any additional rescue aids for reaching and throwing (e.g. flotation aids, poles and ropes, surfboards) that need to be available during the activity.

    Life jackets

    Type 1, 2 or 3 Life jackets may be used for recreational swimming activities. See: Life jacket laws

    First aid kits

    First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.

    Clothing

    Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against severe and variable weather conditions.

    Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, environment and season.

    Before and after swimming, students need to protect themselves from the sun (e.g. a shirt and hat), and cold and wet weather (e.g. a towel and change of clothing including a jumper, long pants and jacket) as appropriate for the season and location.

    Sun protection clothing should be readily available to students when they leave the water.

    To protect against sunburn (see sun exposure) use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Students who own sunglasses should be encouraged to bring and wear them when required. Further information can be found at SunSmart.

    Sun Protection is required when the UV Index is above 3. For further information see Sun and UV Protection.

    Identification

    Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

    Staff must determine the most suitable identification system based on an assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken, and the age and number of students.

    People

    Staff

    Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity.  All staff members must be approved by the school council.

    All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

    A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

    Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher responsible for the activity must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If this teacher is not the designated instructor, he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

    Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will apply to any such disclosure.

    Experience and qualifications

    Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

    Swimming pools

    The designated recreational swimming supervisor must hold at least one of the following:

    • AUSTSWIM Teacher of Swimming and Water Safety Certificate
    • Royal Life Saving Society Bronze Medallion
    • Royal Life Saving Society Pool Lifeguard Certificate
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Rescue Certificate
    • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Lifesaving Certificate
    • Recognised Australian White Water Rescue Training.

    The designated assistant to the instructor must:

    • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
    • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
    • be competent in emergency response procedures, including current CPR
    • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

    Inland waterways

    The designated recreational swimming staff must hold at least one of the following:

    • Inland waterway Life Saving Certificate
    • Royal Life Saving Society Bronze Medallion
    • Royal Life Saving Society Pool Lifeguard Certificate
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Rescue Certificate
    • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Life Saving Certificate
    • Recognised Australian White Water Rescue Training.

    The designated assistant to the instructor must:

    • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
    • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
    • be competent in emergency response procedures, including CPR
    • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

    The designated recreational swimming staff assistant should hold at least one of the following:

    • Inland waterway Life Saving Certificate
    • Royal Life Saving Society Bronze Medallion
    • Royal Life Saving Society Pool Lifeguard Certificate
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Rescue Certificate
    • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Life Saving Certificate
    • recognised Australian White Water Rescue Training.

    Enclosed and coastal waterways

    The designated recreational swimming staff must hold at least one of the following:

    • Surf Life Saving Australia Bronze Medallion
    • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Rescue Certificate
    • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Life Saving Certificate
    • for non-surf environments, recognised Australian Swift water Rescue Training.

    Swiftwater

    The designated recreational swimming staff must:

    • hold a recognised Swiftwater rescue qualification.

    Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, see: Roles and responsibilities, External Providers.

    Supervision

    Effective supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in adventure activities.

    A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity.  One staff member is to have responsibility for instruction in the activity and the other is to assist the instructor.

    The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for recreational swimming:

    minimum staff-to-student rations for recreational swimmming
    VenueStaffStudents
    Swimming pools21–20
    321-30
    Inland waterways21–20
    31-30
    Enclosed waterways 21–20
    321-30
    Coastal waterways 21–10
    311-15
    Swiftwater 21–10
    311-15

    If the group is larger than 20 students, the teacher in charge must consult other participating staff members about their ability to supervise and respond to an emergency with the larger group of students, and adjust staffing accordingly.

    It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

    • age, maturity, gender and physical characteristics* of students
    • ability and experience of students
    • needs of individuals
    • dynamics of the student group
    • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
    • location of the activity
    • anticipated conditions at the location.

    *For example, if a group includes any physically large students, supervising staff must have the required training and qualifications to undertake any necessary rescue and the required physical attributes.

    Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

    The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the school council as part of the excursion approval process.  Staff members will supervise students according to this strategy.

    Lifeguards at pools and beaches can only be used for supervision and included in staff–student ratios if they do not have general lifeguard duties at the venue at that time and their sole responsibility during the activity is for the students undertaking the activity.

    If a student needs to be rescued, the duty lifeguard will usually take responsibility for the rescue.  If the duty lifeguard is not able to assist, a staff member must undertake the rescue.

    To ensure that there is no confusion between the roles of duty lifeguards and excursion staff members, staff must consult the relevant lifeguard on arrival at the venue.

    Overnight excursions

    If the excursion has an overnight component, the Overnight camping guidelines may be relevant.

    Informed consent
    The school must receive consent from parents or guardians before their child may participate in adventure activities.

    Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

    • the educational purpose of the activity
    • the nature and details of the activity
    • the supervision strategy
    • other information deemed relevant by the school, parents or guardians.

    Informed consent must be given in writing and signed by parents or guardians.

    First aid

    At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

    Staff members must carefully consider the nature and location of the excursion, as well as the medical history of the students, to determine the level of first aid training required by staff.  For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present. See: Excursion Support – First Aid.

    Common risks

    School staff must refer to the Excursions Risk Management section of this website which explains how to prepare a risk register. Risks and possible controls are also explained.

    The list below identifies some risks in recreational swimming activities.  Identifying risk is only one aspect of the risk assessment process.  An activity-specific risk management plan must be completed which takes into account the specific conditions and unique participants of the activity.

    Recreational swimming specific risks
    Sample risksSample controls

    A student or students get into difficulty due to deep or turbid water, rips, currents, tides, big or strong waves.

    Pre-activity planning will consider whether the planned swimming session and venue matches the maturity and abilities of the group.

    At least one staff member will be familiar with local conditions.

    The pre-session briefing with the students will identify these hazards before students enter the water and will outline essential communications, boundaries and expectations for the particular venue.

    Rescue devices will be available.

    There is ineffective communication with the group during the activity resulting in exposure to risks.

    Staff will wear brightly coloured vests or other identifiable clothing so they can be easily located.

    Staff members will carry a whistle or other device for signalling to swimmers and other staff. 

    In the pre-session safety briefing, staff will explain the necessary communication signals and boundaries.

    A student suffers a neck or back injury by diving into the water and hitting a submerged log, rocks or sandbar.

    At least one staff member will be familiar with local conditions.

    Staff will assess the presence of local hazards, which may include a physical check.  Staff will be aware of the potential for spinal injury and very carefully assess the appropriateness of any diving activity.

    The use of recreational swinging ropes in natural swimming venues will be avoided.

    The pre-session briefing will identify hazards before students enter the water and outline essential safe practices for the particular venue.

    Generic risks
    Sample risksSample controls

    A pre-existing medical condition results in injury or illness during the excursion.

    Staff will collect and then review current confidential medical information for all students and staff.  Where uncertainty exists, additional information will be sought.

    At least one staff member will have a minimum of a level two first aid qualification and a first aid kit, which is appropriate to the activity and the environments to be encountered.

    Medical information will be carried by staff on the excursion and referred to as necessary.

    At the start of the excursion, staff will ensure that there is no new illness that may have an impact on the ability of the affected student(s) or staff to participate. Consideration will also be given as to whether that illness might spread to others in the group.

    The emergency response strategy will include communication and evacuation procedures.

    Staff or student fatigue results in incident and/or injury.

    During the planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the activity is suitable.

    The group will adopt appropriately timed rest breaks.  Food and water breaks will match the activity intensity, weather conditions and the group’s abilities.

    Food and water intake will be monitored during the excursion to ensure all participants are eating and drinking adequately.

    Staff will monitor each student and consider strategies to support the group and individuals. This may include altered intensity and loads, changing the activity, obtaining outside support, evacuations or cancellation of the activity.

    Warm or cold weather conditions lead to a temperature-related illness.

    Staff will consider the skills, age, experience and maturity of students and staff when determining the activity, season and venue.

    A change of clothing appropriate for the weather and season should be taken, including a towel for drying before changing.

    Staff will plan and/or adjust the activity in response to foreseeable and prevailing weather conditions.

    The emergency response strategy will define responses for when students and/or staff are affected by heat or cold.

    A group is caught in severe weather or a thunderstorm resulting in injury.

    The chosen venue, activity and season will be appropriate to the group.

    Staff will obtain regular Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts for the specific area they will be in and, if necessary, adjust the activity.

    Staff will observe the weather before and during the activity and adjust the activity accordingly.

    Staff will consider exposure to tree and lightning hazards.

    The emergency response strategy will include possible responses should severe weather or a thunderstorm occur.

    A transport accident occurs while travelling to or from the venue.

    The vehicle must be appropriately insured and maintained.  Where the vehicle is a bus, it must be regularly inspected by a licensed bus tester.

    Drivers will have the appropriate drivers licence and certificates for the planned journey.  Drivers will perform a daily vehicle check (refer to the Victorian Bus & Truck Drivers Handbook​, Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

    In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws (see transport), all drivers will take sufficient breaks from driving.  Drivers will also be sufficiently rested prior to driving.

    Drivers will allow sufficient time for the planned journey and adjust speed to suit the driving conditions.

    A student or staff member suffers a bite or sting causing illness or death.

    Students and staff will have clear and relevant clothing/equipment lists, which reflect the possibility of bites or stings, and have appropriate first aid equipment.

    Staff will carry current and confidential medical information for all students and staff participating in the activity.  Staff will ensure there are appropriate medications available and an emergency response strategy to support a worsening condition. 

    Resources

    Relevant documents
    External resources