Water Park Safety: What to Know Before You Go

A young girl in a blue bikini smiles and sits on her father's shoulders at a water park.

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Slides, wave pools, lazy rivers—water parks have it all! They provide the perfect way to cool down, release some energy, and have fun as a family. After checking (and double-checking) your list of things to bring, there's another equally-important list to memorize: water park safety precautions.

"When going to a water park, the same water safety measures apply as visiting a pool or body of water," explains Florencia Segura, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Einstein Pediatrics in Virginia. As flocks of people start making their way to water parks in the summer, it is especially necessary to have a plan in place to keep your little ones safe while enjoying the attractions.

We've gathered some of the tips you'll need before heading to the water park, including safety precautions and items you should bring to make the most of your trip.

Water Park Safety Tips

It is crucial to have a safety plan in place for you and your kids while visiting a water park. Here's what you should know.

Keep Eyes on Your Child at All Times 

It happens to the best of us—you turn your back on the kids for just a moment, and chaos ensues. The same can happen at a water park.

Dr. Segura recommends designating a "water watcher." If there is more than one adult in your party, ensure that one of you is constantly within arm's reach of your child while they are swimming, no matter how shallow the water is. "Remember that kids can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, so supervision is the most critical safety measure," she says.

It can be tempting to think that since your child is a strong swimmer and has a floaty on, they don't need your eyes on them, too. However, kids need constant attention when in a water-based area.

"[Keeping watch] is a must around water play structures in the kiddie areas, as they can block parents' sight of their children," explains Leslie Paul, swim instructor and founder of the RAPS (Really Awesome People Swimming) program in Hampton Roads, Virginia. "Children must know their limitations and not go into areas that [are] not suitable for them."

According to the CDC, an average of just over 8,000 nonfatal drownings occur in the United States each year, while 4,000 unintentional drownings per year are fatal. You can never be too cautious when your child is in the water, especially when you're among large crowds at a water park.

Dr. Segura offers a reminder that extra precautions should be taken in wave pools: "Wave pools pose the most considerable drowning risk due to the currents and multiple people floating simultaneously, which makes spotting a child in danger very difficult!"

Paul adds, "Lifeguards at water parks make anywhere from 150 to 200 rescues a summer. They are engaging in reactive guarding as opposed to preventive lifeguarding that most pools use due to the numbers at the waterparks."

If your child is under 48 inches tall, cannot swim, or is a weak swimmer, they should wear a Coast Guard-approved life vest while visiting a water park. You can bring your own, or check ahead with the water park to see if they offer them.

Always Follow the Water Park Rules

Water park rules are in place for a reason. In 2015 alone, 4,200 people were sent to the hospital for water park-related injuries, including cuts, broken bones, concussions, and spinal injuries.

"Pay attention to the height and weight restrictions," Dr. Segura says. "For example, a child who is too small can be thrown off the ride." Similarly, if someone exceeds the weight limit, they may get stuck in chutes or ride too fast.

Paul agrees, adding, "[You shouldn't try] to talk the lifeguard into letting your child in an area that is not appropriate for their size." The same applies to the number of riders allowed. (Don't try to pile on!)

You should explain to your children the importance of following the rules, not just out of respect, but because it keeps them safe. Water slides are the biggest culprits when it comes to injuries, so Dr. Segura recommends teaching your child to always go down feet first.

Skip the Water Park if You’re Sick 

Here's a not-so-fun fact: Most people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms that can rinse off into the water, causing contamination. (Yikes!) If your child is sick with diarrhea, this increases the chances of fecal matter making its way onto water park rides.

Preventing Water-Borne Illnesses

  • Make frequent bathroom trips
  • Always have clean drinking water available
  • Check your child's swim diaper often, around every 30 minutes to an hour
  • Shower before going to and before leaving the water park
  • Stay home if you are sick (especially with stomach issues)
  • Never drink pool water

Because of contaminants like E. coli, it's important to teach your child to never drink pool water. "If they can't comply, they shouldn't be in the water," says Dr. Segura. Make sure to bring clean drinking water for when your kids get thirsty.

Invest in Water Shoes

Pool decks and other surfaces at the water park can become slippery when sunscreen and water mix. To avoid slipping, keep the flip-flops at home.

Water shoes are the best choice for walking around water parks. "[They] provide extra traction and help keep feet safe from injuries and infections," says Dr. Segura. Water shoes can also create more comfort on little feet if the pool bottoms are rough.

Designate a Meeting Spot

Before hitting the rides, make sure you pick a meeting spot in case someone becomes separated from your party. Always keep a park map handy and use the buddy system to avoid getting lost, especially with children.

What To Bring to the Water Park 

There are certain items you won't want to forget when heading to the water park. They ensure you and your kids stay safe, hydrated, and ready for fun.

Waterproof Sunscreen

Always apply waterproof sunscreen before heading to the water park, and bring plenty to reapply throughout the day.

"Apply sunscreen regularly, at least every two hours," says Dr. Segura. "Remember that 'waterproof' doesn't mean you don't have to reapply."

Snacks and Water

It is essential to stay hydrated when you're out in the sun all day, especially when it comes to kids. Dr. Segura recommends rehydrating at least every 30 minutes to an hour, and scheduling breaks for eating.

"It's very easy to underestimate the degree of water loss when your child is under the hot sun and physically active," she says.

Protective Clothing

Make sure the whole family wears protective clothing to the water park, including hats, rashguards, and UPF sun shirts. These items, in combination with frequent sunscreen application, will help you avoid sunburn.

Keep in mind that a baby's skin burns much more easily, so it's important to keep them out of the sun and in the shade as much as possible. Dress them in lightweight clothing and use hats with wide brims to help cover their face.

Be sure to also pack a change of clothes, towels, and any first aid items you might need.

A Word From Verywell

The water park isn't just fun for kids—adults can have a blast too! It's easy to get caught up in the excitement, so be sure to keep important safety measures in mind to keep your family safe. Always stay within arm's reach when your child is swimming in the water (no matter how shallow), bring plenty of snacks and fresh drinking water, and follow all of the park rules. Of course, remember to have fun!

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Healthchildren.org. Drowning prevention for curious toddlers: What parents need to know.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning facts.

  3. The Global Association for the Attractions Industry. Water park safety tips.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. 5 things you need to know about water parks, but probably don’t.

  5. Nemours Kids Health. Sun safety.

By Alex Vance
Alex Vance is a freelance writer covering topics ranging from pregnancy and parenting to health and wellness. She is a former news and features writer for Moms.com and Blog Writer for The HOTH. Her motherhood-related pieces have been published on Scary Mommy, Motherhood Understood, and Thought Catalog.