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Camp risk management news

Vol. 2, 2017

Keeping Safety 1st at your camp

The 2017 camp season promises to be another exciting year; full of positive new camper experiences that will last for many years. As a camp owner, director or staff member you have the responsibility to help ensure the campers and their families get the most out of their camp experience this summer.

Continuing with feedback from the 2016 Safety 1st Awards survey, camps are interested in risk management material that addresses cyber threats, aquatics safety and food allergies. The following articles will help you support your risk management efforts in these areas.


Rethinking the watercraft lifeguard

By Diane Tyrrell

The use of lifeguards in the primary supervision of watercraft activities, along with the term “Watercraft Lifeguard”, is a prevalent practice at camps and organized youth programs. While these practices may be entrenched, it’s time to critically re-think the practices in your program - noting that the inherent problem first and foremost is that there is no such thing as a “Watercraft Lifeguard” certification … And the reality is that, with few exceptions, lifeguard certification by itself is completely irrelevant in the supervision of watercraft activities.

Closeup of sailboat and life jacket

…Wait, what?

Currently in the US training marketplace, the majority of lifeguard certification courses focus on skills specific to swimming activities only, and most do NOT include any instruction in (1) watercraft operation and/or operation of rescue craft (2) watercraft rescue, or (3) any skills needed to safely supervise watercraft activities, such as activity management, hazard recognition, or accident prevention strategies.

While the use of lifeguards in watercraft activity supervision may be well intended, it’s critical to understand that the skills and knowledge required to supervise activities and execute rescue in a watercraft emergency are very different than those required to rescue an individual who is swimming. At the end of the day, unless that lifeguard ALSO has competent operating ability, solid boat control skills (or competency when using motorized watercraft for rescue) and the ability to execute watercraft rescue in a quick and effective manner in an emergency, they may be totally ineffective.

Further, lifeguards not trained specifically in watercraft rescue skills can actually become an additional hazard in an emergency situation, and can endanger the lives of the participants, as well as their own. For example, lifeguards without competent craft control may not arrive to the victim in a timely manner, may hit victims in the water, or may capsize their own craft in the rescue attempt. 

In other words, expecting someone to have any boating knowledge or ability to supervise or rescue watercraft activities based solely on their lifeguard certification is akin to asking a mechanic to take out a gall bladder – the skills and knowledge simply don’t translate. Just because your staff can swim doesn’t automatically mean they know how to rescue a capsized kayak ... One has nothing whatsoever to do with the other.

A critical safety factor is to ensure that those supervising watercraft activities are well trained. Nothing takes the place of supervision by qualified individuals.

Ideally, those supervising watercraft activities should, at minimum, have:Canoeing and Stand up paddle boarding family

  • Competent operating ability, specific to the type(s) of craft and bodies of water to be used
  • Knowledge, ability, and skills required to execute rescue in a quick and effective manner in an emergency, specific to the type(s) of craft, and bodies of water to be used
  • Ability to recognize and respond to hazards, and effectively implement Emergency Action Plans
  • Excellent judgment and mature decision making
  • Physical fitness and physical ability to execute emergency skills/rescue

Ideally, the recommended best practice is to ensure that watercraft activities are supervised by an adult who holds an Instructor level certification from a nationally recognized boating organization, specific to the type(s) of craft, and bodies of water to be used.

Still want to use lifeguards?

Be ready to commit to providing additional training. In order to use someone certified as a lifeguard in the primary supervision of watercraft activities, they should be additionally trained AND be able to demonstrate proficiency in:

  • Operating skills – such as paddling, sailing, driving – to effectively operate the watercraft in an efficient and controlled manner
  • How to execute watercraft rescue
  • Safety Management: Recognition, prevention, hazards, common accidents, emergency response, decision making, risk management, etc.

All of which should be specific to the type(s) of craft, and bodies of water to be used.

Program operators should also require skills verification of those who are instructing and supervising watercraft activities. Skills verification helps ensure that lifeguards (and others) supervising watercraft activities have demonstrated skills in water rescue and emergency procedures, have the ability and knowledge to conduct activities, as well as the physical ability to perform the skills required.

Note that like most sports, “watercraft” is not a skill that one learns and masters to the level of being able to supervise or effectively execute rescue in a “learn-to-blank” course. The risk issues around using lifeguards and/or inexperienced operators in the supervision of watercraft activities are far greater than “just” demonstrating ability to execute rescue skills in a staged setting. Again, ideally, those supervising activities should be experienced - specifically in the type(s) of watercraft and on the type(s) of water used in the program. If for no other reason than an experienced individual will generally have better ability to execute rescue in a quick and efficient manner than a novice. 

lifejackets next to a lakeCertainly, it is reasonable to split the tasks of staff, assigning those with appropriate watercraft skills to roles of supervision and rescue, and assigning lifeguards who do not have additional specific watercraft training/ability to roles such as responding to medical emergencies near the water, participant supervision on land, etc. Further, as/if applicable, they may meet requirements for staff with certification/training in CPR/AED and First Aid to be present.

Because your camp/organization “has-always-done-it-this-way” with regards to hiring lifeguards for watercraft activities is not a reason to continue the practice. The key is to be thoughtful in staffing decisions to ensure that safety while on-and around-the water is priority one, and that those supervising watercraft activities have the knowledge and skills to be diligent in protecting participants against risk of injury.

Please note that the above are suggested minimum qualifications for those supervising activities. Operators should evaluate the supervision needs of their program specific to the facilities, body of water, boats used, activities conducted, and clientele served. Additionally, there may be local, state, or federal laws and regulations which dictate how activities must be conducted and supervised. Those supervising watercraft activities should be familiar with the standards and regulations applicable to the program, facility, and body of water, and conduct activities in compliance.

Diane Tyrrell, CCD is the CEO of Frog Pond Aquatics and has over 30 years-experience in aquatics risk management, working with camps, municipalities, universities, youth organizations, insurance companies, and legal professionals. Diane is the author of the book 101 Games & Activities for Canoes & Kayaks, and has contributed content to the American Red Cross Small Craft Safety and Lifeguard Management training curriculum, and the book Camp Waterfront Management.


How to prepare for campers with food allergies

by Michael Ambrose, M.D.

Many camps across the country welcome campers with a variety of food allergies. Food allergic children make up about 8% of the pediatric population with nearly 40% of those children having a history of severe reaction requiring immediate intervention. While some camps choose to remove things like peanuts or tree nuts from their kitchen and institute procedures for anaphylactic emergencies, many camps do not.

Children with food allergies are at greater risk for exposure and anaphylaxis when outside of their home environment. Menus at camp may vary substantially from home or school and the risk of cross-contamination may be higher at camp as well. At camp there are also increased opportunities for food sharing and decreased supervision during meal times. Camps are often located in remote locations, further from emergency medical services, putting children at higher risk for delayed treatment or definitive care.

Allergy Blackboard Medical Warning Wristbands

Many camps train staff on first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); however, many are ill-prepared to manage severe allergic reactions. In the past several years, there have been highly publicized pediatric cases of anaphylaxis-related death at summer camps throughout the country. As camps plan for this upcoming summer, they should consider creating food allergy policies and share these protocols with families before the start of camp.

Camps should consult a healthcare professional with pediatric training as they develop their food allergy policies, and should consider the following:

  • Epipen for allergy - 336x436Require that campers with documented food allergies supply a minimum of two epinephrine auto-injectors while they are at camp.
  • Require that camp health staff review the camper’s weight to ensure that the appropriate dose of epinephrine is being supplied.
  •  Require that camp health staff review the expiration date of the devices supplied by the family.
  •  Require that camp staff directly responsible for the care of a camper with a known food allergy review the camper’s allergy action plan with camp health staff.
  •  Require that camp staff directly responsible for the care of a camper with a known food allergy be trained in the administration of an epinephrine auto-injector, and keep that camper’s epinephrine auto-injector in close proximity to the camper at all times.

Some children may experience a first episode of anaphylaxis while at camp due to a new food exposure. A study of children at school showed that 24% of children had no prior history of food allergies when they experienced symptoms of anaphylaxis requiring the administration of epinephrine. These campers will not have not have their own epinephrine at camp, and therefore camps should also consider stocking extra epinephrine auto-injectors throughout camp. Stock epinephrine should be stored in easily accessible and unlocked locations where exposure is most likely (e.g. dining hall for food exposures, horseback riding for bee stings). Camps should also review local regulations and requirements for stocking epinephrine, as many states have legislation allowing camps to stock unassigned epinephrine auto-injectors, and some states even have laws requiring camps to stock epinephrine devices. 

Camps should also discuss their food allergy policy with food vendors and should review all food labels upon receipt. Camps should consider setting policies for outside food brought to camp (e.g. a staff member who returns from a day off with a candybar in their backpack), or should simply not allow any outside food to be brought into camp. Cross contamination prevention policies should also be established, and include things like washing tables before and after meals, handwashing practices, serving peanut butter in packets with separate utensils, and not allowing food in camper cabins.

How well is your camp prepared for campers with food allergies? Did you have any close calls last summer? There is still time to prepare and establish a food allergy policy for this upcoming summer. If you start planning now, you can reduce the risk of exposure and anaphylactic emergencies!

Ambrose Michael HeadshotDr. Michael Ambrose, Owner and Director of, earned his M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School and is a board-certified pediatrician. He has been involved in camping and camp health for over 10 years, and having spent several summers in camp clinics, remains devoted to the continual improvement of the camping industry and creating innovative solutions for camps and camp clinics.

For more information about and web-based health management, please visit or call 734-636-1000. logo


Cyber threats continue to be a concern for camps

Three opportunity areas have been identified to help support a camp’s cyber security risk management program.  These involve:

  1. Conducting due diligence on all third-party vendors
  2. Maintaining a Written Information Security Program (WISP)
  3. Strengthening password protection to reduce vulnerability

Visit our risk management library to read more on this subject matter and gain other tips to help with your cyber security efforts at: 


There are 3 safety training webinars left! Have you registered?

Free safety training webinar for 2017 - Register now

Photo of Dr. Deborah GilboaDr. Deborah Gilboa - March 24
Bullying is normal, what matters is what we do next.
How we handle those involved, the situation and the parents is key to any bullying situation in any environment. What happens NEXT will influence whether this is a learning or defining moment in kids development. Most children will find themselves at different points in the role of bullied, bullying, and bystander. This workshop will give adults the perspective to understand why bullying occurs, the tools to limit this bad behavior, and important strategies for helping each of the children involved to have positive social interactions and respect for one another.


Bob DitterBob Ditter - April 18
Supervision and staff oversight -- The key to safety at camp.
Giving your camp staff feedback is a central method for improving their growth and performance. Yet, most people cringe at the thought of either giving or getting feedback because of a blow to our pride. This skill packed webinar will give you lots of skills and ideas to help you make a culture of feedback and reflection at you camp a happy reality.


Photo of Michael Swain, Sernior Loss Control Specialist at MarkelMichael Swain, ARM, SCLA, Sr. Loss Control Specialist - May 2
Preparing for risks of summer camp.
Being prepared for risks a camp may face during the summer is an important component of a good risk management strategy. Understanding historical trends and emerging issues can help with the preparation process. This workshop will analyze some of the historical loss activity that has occurred in a camp setting, exam some of the emerging risk management concerns camps will face during the summer, and offer a risk manager’s insights on steps camps can take to control these issues to help support a positive camper experience.


Correction to the 2016 Safety 1st award designations

Markel safety first 2016 decaBelated congratulations to these 2016 Markel Safety 1st Award winners!

  • Boston Leadership Institute - 1st year winner
  • Camp Gilbert - 3rd year winner

See all 2016 Safety 1st award winners