Children's Camp Program - Wilderness Swimming Guidance

A wilderness swimming site is a remote beach site which is established for temporary use by a children's camp for swimming at a location that is not readily accessible for inspection by the permit-issuing official (PIO). Wilderness swimming sites are frequently established during a canoeing or hiking activity where no public swimming facilities are available. Subpart 7-2 of the New York State Sanitary Code (SSC) allows children's camps to conduct wilderness swimming in accordance with specified criteria. The following is provided to assist in conducting a wilderness swimming activity in compliance with those criteria:

  • A permission slip, signed and dated by the parent/guardian of each participating camper, must be on file at the children's camp. The permission slip should indicate that: the camper may participate in swimming at site(s) that are not inspected by the PIO; qualified camp staff will determine the suitability of the site at the time of each use; and the location may be remote or inaccessible to allow for prompt transfer to an emergency medical health care facility.
  • Each participating camper must have a current medical history/physical record on file at the children's camp which documents the camper is not restricted from swimming. A swimming ability assessment must be conducted and documented by a progressive swimming instructor (PSI) for each camper. Campers must be oriented to the rules, restrictions and hazards. Only mature campers who follow directions should participate in wilderness swimming activities.
  • A qualified trip leader and at least one other staff member must be provided in accordance with the requirements of Subpart 7-2 of the SSC. The trip leader, counselor or other staff must be certified as a lifeguard (Supervision level IIb) and actively guard and supervise swimming at the site. Lifeguards must be a minimum of 18 years old, and at least one lifeguard must be provided for every 25 bathers.

    A minimum of two staff, which includes the lifeguard(s), must be certified in American Red Cross CPR for the Professional Rescuer or a course determined by the State Commissioner of Health to provide an adequate level of training. Counselors that supervise swimming must be assessed and determined by a PSI, to have a swimming ability equivalent to that of a "swimmer" and must be located at the waterfront, or in the water providing direct visual surveillance to assigned campers.

    NYS DOH Fact Sheets can be obtained from your local health department for acceptable First Aid, CPR and Aquatic Certifications.

  • Required equipment must be provided and used, and shall include at least: a rescue tube, rescue buoy or United States Coast Guard approved life jacket, and pocket facemasks (one for each CPR certified staff member). A first aid kit is recommended.
  • Prior to each use the site must be assessed to assure that the water velocity, bottom slope and water clarity meet Subpart 7-2 requirements and that the area is free of sharp drop-offs, jagged rocks or under water obstructions. Acceptable assessment procedures include conducting all of the following measurements:
    1. Assessment of water velocity to determine that the water current does not exceed 3 feet per second:
      • Measure and mark a distance of 30 feet on the shoreline.
      • Drop a stick or other floating object into the water at the upstream point.
      • Using a watch, determine how many seconds it takes the floating object to travel between the two points for a distance of 30 feet.
        - Swim area is unacceptable if less than 10 seconds.
    2. Assessment of bottom slope of the swim area to determine if it is not steeper than 1:8 (excluding the water shore transition area):
      • Determine the point where the water depth is equal to 1 foot deep. Mark with a stick.
      • Measure a distance of 8 feet from the 1 foot depth mark straight out into the water. At that point, measure the depth of the water.
      • Continue to measure the water depth at intervals of eight feet from the shore 1 foot depth point to the outer perimeter of the swimming area (outer perimeter must be no more than 75 feet from shore and no deeper than 5 feet).
        • 2 feet deep at 8 feet away from the 1-foot depth mark
        • 3 feet deep at 16 feet away from the 1-foot depth mark
        • 4 feet deep at 24 feet away from the 1-foot depth mark
        • 5 feet deep at 32 feet away from the 1-foot depth mark
        • 5 feet deep at 40 feet away from the 1-foot depth mark
        - Swim area is unacceptable if the water depth exceeds the depth for distances listed.
    3. Assessment of water clarity to determine if the bottom, or to at least a depth of 4 feet below the water surface, is visible:
      • Place a measuring device, such as a weighted rope or a marked paddle or stick, into the water at various points within the designated swim area to determine if the bottom, or to at least a depth of 4 feet below the water surface, is visible.
        - Swim area is unacceptable if the marking is not visible at a depth of less than 4 feet.
    4. Assessment of site for underwater hazards:
      • Lifeguarding staff should enter the water and check the swim area for underwater hazards such as jagged rocks or other obstructions.
        - Swim area is unacceptable if hazards exist.
    5. Designate the perimeter of the swimmer and non-swimmer to as small of an area as necessary for the activity without exceeding 150 feet (50 yards) of shoreline or 75 feet (25 yards) from shore. Acceptable methods for designating the areas include:
      • floating ropes;
      • anchored line of life vests; or
      • positioning staff.
  • A buddy system and board system (or equivalent) must be used during wilderness swimming. Because it is not practical to implement a conventional buddy board system at wilderness sites, camps will often use an equivalent system such as clipboard or a tongue depressor system (used by the Boy Scouts of America and described below.) Equivalent systems must be effective in accounting for campers, approved in the written safety plan, and identify the following for each camper:
    1. the camper's full name and swimming ability;
    2. the swim area to which the camper is assigned;
    3. the camper's entry to and exit from the assigned swimming area; and
    4. the camper's assigned buddy.

    Tongue depressor system description: Prior to the trip, each camper's full name and assessed swimming ability is written (with permanent marker) on a tongue depressor to be used in a similar way as a buddy tag. At the site, an area on the ground near the beach is selected to serve as the "buddy board" and non-swimmer and swimmer areas are scratched or scraped into the soil or outlined with sticks on the ground. Each camper's tongue depressor is stuck into the ground next to his/her buddy's and in the assigned swimming area. When buddy pairs change swimming areas or exit the water, their tongue depressors are relocated to the new area or removed from the ground.

    tongue depressor system

  • The following safety rules must be enforced
    1. No head first diving.
    2. No jumping into the water from cliffs, trees, water flumes, or rope swings.
    3. No swimming unless required supervision and equipment are provided.
    4. No swimming between sunset and sunrise or during thunderstorms.
    5. Swim only within the designated site.

Note: *Incidental immersion in the water (i.e., getting in our out of a canoe, crossing a shallow brook while hiking, or bathing in water less than two feet deep for personal hygiene) is not considered swimming.