swim class safety rules

Good swimmers often think they don’t need a lifeguard.

Some are even offended at having to follow supposed safety rules.

If they have done dangerous things before and not been hurt they are likely to want to be able to continue the same fun things.

racing dive border:

Diving into the big pool at De Anza, (the one 25 yards wide by 50 meters long) even in its deepest (7 feet) part, is against rules laid down by a Dean of Physical Education (except for swim team members during practice or meets).

no diving warning symbol in pool tiles: Studies tell us why someone would, for example, dive into a pool with a sign that said No Diving:

1) The familiarity effect; people who have done a lot of diving with no harm are less likely to comply with warnings. If your personal experience is that it has been safe for you, you gauge your future risk as low. Swim and Water Polo team members are among those most likely to ignore a warning sign.

This can be affected as well by never having known anyone who was paralyzed by a diving accident.

2) Younger people in general do not have as many life experiences that tell them that warning signs might be valid. The risk management part of your brain that says to you “that’s not a good idea” does not fully develop until you are 20 to 25 years old.

3) People who are aware of a hazard decide they can minimize risk by trying to be safe. A diver knows that the water is shallow, but decides to try to attempt a dive with a shallow trajectory. Unfortunately, you have little control over dive angle.

4) Everybody else is doing it. If some people are diving where they should not it is more likely that others will as well, even with signs warning them not to.

5) Was the sign not seen, or not understandable, as in kids too young to read, older people with weakened cognitive abilities and people who do not read English well.

6) We see so many warning signs, yet we each rarely have a serious injury. People can become skeptical about warnings, especially since they have seen so many instances in the news of warnings that arise from litigation rather than a special care about people’s safety.

7) Your internal reasons.

Some people are risk takers and are willing to risk the consequences. Disability and even death can result from a poorly done dive, but these results do not seem as likely to some people as to others.

Some people don’t like to have their behavior limited by orders from the manufacturer of a product or the manager of a pool. Adults sometimes think their rights are being taken away by “too many rules.”

Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue describes a couple of reasons they have to rescue people:

“Becoming complacent because nothing went wrong the last time you tried this stunt.

Thinking your skills in one environment (e.g. a strong swimmer in surf) will transfer to a new one (e.g. swiftwater).”


De Anza College (and most other pool facilities) has rules in the tiles at the edge of the pool warning people they should not dive into the shallow pool or run at the pool:
drawings on tiles showing no diving, no running



Diving boards seem to invite more risky behavior and have even been shut down completely at some pools.

These rules are common for diving boards and must be followed in De Anza aquatics classes:

    Only one bounce allowed on the diving board.
    • Only one person on the diving board at a time. This means people


    • should wait at the bottom of the ladder until the person


    jumping or diving has done so, and is clear.
    Don’t run on the board or attempt to dive a long way through the air.
    Swim away from the board immediately after diving so you aren’t a hazard for the next diver and so you are safe if the next diver doesn’t make certain the water is clear.
    Jump or dive only from the end of the board. Don’t use the guardrails for gymnastics. Trick dives only with permission.

NEVER perform a head-first entry, from the side of the pool or a diving board:

    Over stationary objects
    Over any hard device, such as a pole
    Through inner tubes or hoops

Also note this memo from a Dean of Physical Education: (and note that two diving towers he referred to no longer exist)

“Our swimming curriculum does allow for some diving instruction, however, effective immediately, this will occur only on the 1 meter boards. We will no longer use the 3 meter boards nor either of the towers for our activity classes. This would include jumping as well as head first entry. The Inter Collegiate divers will still have access to the 3 meter boards as long as the diving coach is present. If you are using the diving boards, please move enough lane lines out of the way to insure the safety of novice divers who may end up farther from the end of the board than experienced divers. My experience is that you should take out at least the first 3 lane lines in the diving well… Just a reminder, with the exception of the swimming teams, there is absolutely no head first entry allowed in the 50 meter pool. This would include the starting blocks in the 50 meter pool.”

Later this was added: “In addition, the one meter boards are to be used only after following a progression of diving skills from the pool deck.”

People trying to learn racing dives should only do so in water at least nine feet deep, at De Anza that means only in the diving well.




Most of the big racing pool is 6 to 7 feet deep (the west end and center).
For people who want to swim in deep water
we will give a swim test (usually the first class session)

See: swim test for people who want to swim in deep water.




As I walked by the pool one day I saw another swim class learning flip turns. The instructor used a common teaching progression that I had decided years earlier I would not use. As I briefly watched, a student came in to the wall, hit their forehead on the wall and within seconds had a lump on their head the size of a small potato.

To keep this from happening in our classes, I do not allow students to try to coach each other to learn or re-learn flip turns until the class as a whole is learning open turns and flip turns. At that point you will all use the safer (easier) progression I will describe that I have found people are more successful with. If you already have a fully functional flip turn we will watch you use it, and okay you to you can use it after we “test” you, just as we test people’s deep water swimming ability.




Goggles should not be worn to dive or to swim to a depth greater than 5 feet.

The Red Cross warns: Goggles “are not made for underwater swimming. There is no way to equalize the pressure inside the goggles with the increasing pressure outside the body. The air volume inside the goggles tends to compress. This compression tends to “pull” the eyeball out of the socket to effectively reduce the trapped air volume. If swimmers spend time below the surface of the water wearing goggles they may pop blood vessels in their eyes. Goggles should not be worn for underwater swimming … Submerging to a depth of 5 feet or greater has the potential to cause barotraumas to the eye of an individual wearing swim goggles that cannot be pressure equalized.” The Red Cross also warns, in a swim instructor manual safety note “Do not allow participants to wear goggles while practicing any of the diving skills.”




Wearing your contact lenses to swim is dangerous. The Red Cross warns: “Swimmers with contact lenses should remove them before opening eyes underwater.” Pool chemicals can damage some kinds and others will absorb bacteria, leading to infection.

No, you can’t just wear tight googles. All brands of goggles can leak or slip off and do not fully protect contact lenses.




Your personal water bottle(s) need to be unbreakable plastic or metal since people have bare feet and we would not be able to clean up all the bits of broken glass if a glass container breaks at the pool deck.




Kick boards can be dangerous used as toys. When a person tries to stand on, kneel on or sit on a kickboard and loses control of it, it can come to the surface with enough force to knock out teeth.




alan and george with kickboards: Almost all swim classes are fully enrolled and require lanes to be shared.

For drills with two swimmers per lane, people can swim side by side.

In situations with more than two swimmers per lane (which is the case for most for most open rec swim when it is offered), people need to circle swim. Each swimmer swims across the pool on the right hand side of the lane, turns and swims back on the right hand side. (Swim counterclockwise).

You should stay on the side of the lane. Even experienced Masters Swim athletes have collided with each other when they did not pay attention to staying on their side of the lane.

People who find themselves out of breath and needing to stop should do so by squeezing into the corner of the end of the lane at the pool deck. The same applies if you are doing sprints with long rest intervals. If you find that another swimmer behind you seems to be gaining on you, you can let them pass at that point. Ideally you would head for the left hand corner (as you approach) so others can do turns.

Ideally you would work in a lane with others of about the same speed and who are using the same 5 second or ten second intervals. Ideally you would all figure out how to be ten seconds apart from each other.

Hand paddles are too dangerous to use when sharing a lane.



When you use fins, don’t walk on the deck while wearing them. Even though you will try to be careful, you have a risk of catching the tip and falling forward. IF you must wear them and walk any distance, (at the pool, at a beach), walk backwards.


Also note this memo from a Dean of Physical Education:

“Warning: we have had problems with slipping in the locker room/restrooms. Please towel dry completely after swimming before you go to the locker room or restroom and after taking a shower (while standing on the rubber mats at the shower entrance).”


I will describe how to clear your ears the first day of class. If it does not work you should immediately surface. If it does not work you should also have a doctor look in your ears to be sure you have not accumulated an excess of ear wax or have some other problem. You can lose your hearing if you ignore ear pain/dizziness on submerging.

Don’t hyperventilate (rapid, multiple deep breaths) before attempting to swim a distance. Many people think that hyperventilation can increase their oxygen stores but it does not. Instead it decreases your carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream, the main clue that tells your brain you need to get a breath. You can pass out underwater, leading to inhalation of water, heart arrest and or heart damage and possibly death.




PLEASE NOTE that since your thumbs up are not visible enough in our large pool, floating idly on your stomach for more than three seconds at a time is not allowed. The following is included at this webpage for your potential use at a different pool.
Floating idly in the pool can be quite relaxing. Feel the sunshine on your back, stare at the bottom. But out of courtesy to others, so your instructor, coach, a lifeguard or other swimmers won’t wonder if you are capable of holding your breath for a long time or if you have really passed out, any person who wants to float without moving should signal that they are okay by giving a ‘thumbs-up’ signal. Even if others at the pool you are at are not familiar with this courtesy, they should be able to understand it.

floating thumbs up:




You should remove watches, jewelry and large body jewelry (piercings… eyebrow, ear, nose or wherever).

If it applies, also read body piercings and lifeguards:


Use waterproof sunscreen,
at least 30 SPF and wear a wide brimmed hat as often as possible.
Read the bottle, does it need to be applied a half hour before you enter the water?
If you apply it and then jump right in it won’t work and you will make an oil slick.


Lane lines should be used only for temporary support.

Reasons to not hang on the lane lines:

1) they break

2) lifeguard might think you are in trouble

3) no room for people who really are in trouble

4) submerges it so it can’t be seen (especially important if it is a swim area boundary at a lake, for example).


Signs at the pool tell people that they can’t just show up and swim, as the pool is closed to public use, or any other unauthorized use:
sign about pool facilities use

It also means that students
should not enter the pool
until their instructor tells them it is okay to get in the pool.


In advanced classes we use ten pound weights for various “tests”. When they are taken from storage they should be carried one at a time by one person or two at a time, one in each hand, not in a stack by one person.

Immediately clear the pool at the first sound of thunder or sight of lightning, and do not use showers or a phone connected to a land line or your iPod. Wait 30 minutes after the sound of thunder before swimming again. “Our coach always lets us swim if the storm if far enough away” is not a valid excuse. If rain is heavy enough that we can’t see the bottom of the pool, no one swims.

It is a violation of the health code to have a dog on the pool deck or in the pool.

If we have an earthquake during class time and it is big enough, people should be prepared for a large wave in the pool that could slam them against the side of the pool. During a quake years ago the diving well was half empty after the quake.

Use the stairs to go from the bleachers to the pool deck, do not climb over the wall.

Report any injuries and equipment or facilities problems immediately to your

In case we have an accident in class, the phone to call Campus Security at 5555 (non-emergency) or 911 (emergency) is on the wall behind the diving boards.

This page does not have all the safety rules for the class, many will apply only to equipment we are using as we go along. It would be impossible to list all the rules here, so pay attention to lectures on the subject.

Running on the deck or trying to push people into the pool are only a couple of the things that could cause injury. Think before you act in a rowdy manner. No more holding on to the backstroke flags pole and spinning around it while trying to leap over a starting block. No more trying to catch something thrown to you while you jump of the diving board. No more cartwheels into the diving well.


sign says no extended breath holding

Hypoxic training is a workout with limited breathing and therefore a limited intake of oxygen. No hypoxic training, attempts at swimming to the bottom of the diving well, underwater swims (even for a short distance) or other attempts at lengthy breath holding are allowed in my classes without permission and an instructor or lifeguard watching you.

Yes, we will have opportunities for people to work at being able to swim underwater for a greater distance, such as in preparation for a scuba class or lifeguard training, but only when we say it is time for that.

Prolonged breath holding includes coming in for a turn and gliding underwater for a distance. You might do this with a team, but not in swim class.

When you want to go from one lane to another, you are not allowed to swim underwater. You must go under each lane line and surface in each lane as you move along. This should probably become a habit for you, as people excited to come to a pool have jumped into the pool without really looking first and accidentally jumped on people swimming underwear near the pool edge, (yes, jumped on on their back, neck or head). If it is a habit for you to not swim underwater as you go from lane to lane, you can prevent this from happening to you.

The Red Cross and YMCA of the USA issued a joint statement in May, 2015 that said, in part, swimmers should limit themselves to “a single inhalation” whenever they hold their breath and submerge.

Yes, anaerobic training can be effective to build fast twitch sprint muscles. But there is a big difference between

    5 or 7 count breathing while training, limited to 25 meters or less, without hyperventilating first
    and holding your breath for as long as you can.

When the responsible people are asked why they did not respond to the person on the bottom of the pool, they say they thought the body was a blemish, smudge or a towel, not a human being. In one case, the lifeguard said he thought the victim was walking on the bottom of the pool for exercise! Guards also don’t expect people to be sitting at the bottom of the shallow water section of the pool with their backs to the wall holding their breath, as has been the case in some deaths.

Yes, people have tried having someone who wants to try to see how long they can hold their breath under water wave at the lifeguard as they do it. But when they stop waving is when they pass out. Prolonged breath holding can cause cardiac arrhythmia in otherwise healthy athletes.

The typical people who die from hypoxic training are competitive swimmers, Navy Seal divers, free divers or just good athletes. Since they don’t seem like at-risk swimmers, lifeguards and coaches are less likely to pay attention to them. And when swimmers hold their breath it is impossible to detect until they pass out.

You may have seen famous people exercising underwater with weights, for example, walking on the bottom of the pool carrying a heavy weight, but this is another dangerous form of prolonged breath holding.

New York (2015) and Santa Barbara have banned prolonged breath holding in all city pools.


gutter sticks out farther than wall: If you stand at the edge of the De Anza pool and look straight down you can see that the pool gutter sticks out farther than the deck edge. If you decide to jump in you need to be certain that you jump out far enough from the edge that you don’t hit your tailbone on the gutter. AND you must make it a habit to stop and look before you leap into a pool so you don’t become the person who jumps on a swimmer underwater near the pool edge.


Optional reading about a study of “dangerous underwater breath-holding behaviors” (DUBBs) in New York at:


Optional reading from news releases, why you might want to make it a personal rule to not attempt prolonged breath holding even outside of a swim class:

“Stephen Praisner, a collegiate triathlete and experienced SCUBA diver, swimmer and lifeguard, died at the University of North Carolina at the age of 19 during a public swim in his university swimming pool. He was found in a lap lane in just 4 feet of water with his swimming goggles in place, the next day. His logbook indicated that he would be pushing his limits doing hypoxic training (competitive and repetitive breath-hold swimming) that evening.”

from the St. Petersburg Times
published August 27, 2002

“Eckerd College has agreed to pay $1.55-million to settle a lawsuit by the family of a 15-year-old boy who drowned in the school’s swimming pool in July 1999.

James Robert Goetsch III apparently blacked out while practicing holding his breath and floated lifelessly while other swimmers passed him by.

In a lawsuit alleging “reckless inattentiveness,” Goetsch’s family said the pool’s lifeguard sat where she could not see the bottom of the pool, reading a magazine and socializing… the day after Goetsch drowned, another lifeguard was seen washing his car at the pool while on duty… Goetsch was in a lap lane of the pool with 15 to 20 other swimmers, practicing holding his breath to increase his lung capacity for snorkeling or scuba diving. But he apparently blacked out, police said.

Nobody immediately noticed anything wrong because Goetsch was known to hold his breath underwater.
An Eckerd College graduate who was swimming laps passed Goetsch several times in the lane. She noticed on the third pass that he was on the pool bottom, about 3 1/2 feet below the surface, with his hands floating toward the surface.

In the lawsuit, the teenager’s family said it took five to seven minutes to even begin to summon rescue personnel or administer CPR. When police arrived at the college… Goetsch did not have a pulse and was not breathing.”

“Omar Ortega, a nineteen year old member of the Mexican National Jr. and Senior Water Polo teams drowned during national team practice. The team, preparing for this summer’s Pan American Games, was doing underwater swimming at the end of practice. Apparently, Ortega fainted and went unnoticed on the bottom of the 50 meter pool until it was too late to save his life.”

January 18, 2009: A 15 year old high school freshman team member rescued her coach when he had challenged team members to see whether any of them could swim farther than him without coming up for air, but he passed out. He was on his third lap when she saw him suddenly twist and float toward the surface, but his head stayed underwater. Others thought he was faking it, but she looked closer. As she dragged him across the lane lines another coach dove in to help. It turns out they caught him in time to save him. A lifeguard started CPR and the coach began coughing and gasping for breath. He spent a night in the hospital.

A Navy Seal trying to get on the U.S. Free Diving Team got permission from two lifeguards at a city pool to practice breath holding. The guards did not watch him. Several pool patrons approached the lifeguards and asked why a man was sitting on the bottom of the pool. A half hour after he submerged they finally investigated but it was too late. (See the end of this page for more about this incident.)

A 33-year-old military man drowned … while swimming laps underwater… The two Lifeguards sat at a picnic table talking to one another. Several minutes later, one of the lifeguards noticed the man lying motionless on the bottom of the 5′ section of the pool with bubbles coming to the surface. The Lifeguard assumed he was okay and decided to time him. After several additional minutes, another patron alerted the Lifeguards to the fact that the man wasn’t moving and was in trouble. He was rescued, but it was again, too late.


from: Navy Seal Drowns in Shallow End of Honolulu Municipal Swimming Pool

“On March 26, 1998, a Navy Seal who was training for the U.S. Free Diving Team, approached the two Lifeguards on duty at a municipal swimming pool and explained he was training to hold his breath for a prolonged period of time while underwater in order to gain a spot on the U.S. Free Diving Team. The Lifeguards gave the individual permission to practice in the shallow end of the pool.

This individual then went to the shallow end, directly in front of the Lifeguard stand, went through a series of breathing and swimming exercises, then hyperventilated and attempted to hold his breath, while still located in the shallow end directly in front of the Lifeguard stand. In order to assist him in staying underwater, he draped a weight belt across his hips.

Meanwhile the Lifeguards, rather than being appropriately stationed in the elevated Lifeguard stands, both sat together under the tarp on deck-level bleachers on the opposite end of the pool. According to testimony provided by the Lifeguards, they lost sight of this individual, and several patrons approached the Lifeguards and asked by the man was laying on the bottom of the pool. Their reply was that he was practicing holding his breath.

Approximately 30 minutes after the individual submerged himself in the shallow end of the water, the Lifeguards investigated the potential incident and when they realized he was in trouble, they entered the water and removed him. Emergency resuscitation procedures were not effective because of the prolonged submersion time.”