Catapulting caution around aquatic play structures
Aquatic play structures, including WaterBlobs and Wibit systems, are increasingly popular at many summer camps and outdoor resorts.
A WaterBlob™ is a giant water inflatable resembling a long pillow that swimmers use for a “catapult” effect. One swimmer, the “flyer,” sits at the front end of the Blob and another swimmer, the “jumper,” cannonballs from a high platform onto the other side of the structure. The impact launches the flyer into the water for a high-flying dive. A Wibit™ system is a series of inflatable floating water sports and obstacle elements with endless configurations and possibilities of activities.
While these contraptions are a lot of fun for campers, they also can be a major safety risk. Church Mutual has created this guide for camps to use when deciding whether to buy such a structure and how to use it.
Campers are at risk for suffering from the following injuries when playing on a WaterBlob or other catapult-like play structure:
- Falls from a fixed tower onto the deck.
- Injuries from an awkward impact with the inflatable or the water.
- Electrical shock from electric air pumps used for inflation.
- Injuries from becoming caught between the shell of the contraption and the inflatable itself.
- Drowning from using the structure without permission or with improper supervision.
Planning and prevention
Conditions and practices vary by camp, so it is impossible to offer specific advice for all circumstances. However, if you decide to make an aquatic play structure part of your camp activities, there are several steps you can take to help decrease campers’ risk of injury or even death.
- When adding a new attraction or structure like a WaterBlob or Wibit system, thoroughly research local aquatic regulations and codes to be sure the structure is compliant and allowed.
- Obtain and read all safety and operations guidelines provided by the manufacturer or program supplier. When setting up the structure, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines related to water depth and distance from other objects.
- Identify possible risks and challenges of adding this new program element. Ask yourself and key staff several questions to determine what might go wrong and how it could go wrong. Take the opportunity to look for risks that are reasonably foreseeable to help create specific policies and operational practices.
Possible questions to ask yourself include:
- In what ways could this activity increase the risk of injury and/or drowning?
- Can you think of any foreseeable misuse of the structure from participants?
- Does the structure cause any type of visual obstruction for those supervising participants?
- What possibilities exist for equipment failure?
- What implications does the structure have on rescue and emergency response efforts at the waterfront?
Here are some additional safety tips to work into your existing policies and practices related to aquatic play structures:
- Explain all rules and safety procedures to participants before they use the structure.
- Require all participants to pass a swim test.
- Keep safety equipment on hand, including a backboard, rescue tube, reach pole and medical kit.
- Make sure “buddies” (including both the flyer and jumper) are approximately the same weight. If there is more than a 25-pound weight difference, that can be dangerous for both children.
- Instruct jumpers to land bottom-first on the inflatable.
- Require all participants to wear a life vest.
- Make sure the staff members supervising the activity are certified lifeguards. There should be one supervisor stationed on the jumping platform, and another near the other end of the Blob.
- Prohibit flyers from performing flips or any other acrobatic moves when they are launched into the water.
For more information about keeping your campers safe, visit churchmutual.com/campsafety.