Designate a Water Watcher - Supervision Could Save a Life

NPS Ranger helping a young child put on a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket
Rangers at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area instruct students on water safety measures as part of a youth kayaking program

NPS photo

The National Park Service (NPS) has partnered with Water Safety USA to promote the life saving message of “Designate a Water Watcher – Supervision Could Save a Life”.

The alliance of water safety organizations agrees that designating a water watcher when in, on, or around water can help prevent tragedy, especially during the summer months. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children 1—14 years of age nationwide. Three children die every day across the United States as a result of drowning.

A water watcher is a person that takes on the role of ensuring that all children and adolescents swimming or playing in, on, or around water are continually supervised, even if they know how to swim, to prevent unintentional drownings.  In addition, children and adults should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket in open, natural waters. Young children and inexperienced swimmers need to be within arm's reach of an adult at all times.

Water Safety USA recommends that an appropriate water watcher is someone who:

  • is 16 years old or older (adults preferred)
  • is alert and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • has the skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress OR can immediately alert a capable adult nearby
  • knows CPR or can alert someone nearby who knows CPR
  • has a working phone to dial 9-1-1
  • has a floating and/or reaching object that can be used in a rescue

Visitors to national parks should be aware that a water watcher is NOT a substitute for a lifeguard. Adults should choose a lifeguard-protected area where available but always designate a water watcher, as drowning can even happen in the presence of lifeguards. In many cases, drowning happens quickly and quietly. Most fatal drownings happen when there is poor or absent supervision.

For more information about the benefits of learning to swim, designating a Water Watcher, and water safety tips, visit Water Safety USA.

Don’t be a victim of drowning! Learn to swim, be sure to “Know Before You Go”, and wear a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket if you plan on recreating around, in, or on natural waters in the NPS.

For more information weather and water safety, see the links below:

Learn more about NOAA, weather safety, and how to be weather ready.

Learn more about boating safety.

Read an article on river and stream safety.

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