Updated January 8, 2020
The outdoor pools are among the most popular spots on any cruise ship. Adults and children alike flock to the cool waters of these watery oases on hot sea days, sometimes packing the pools until there's hardly even space for splashing. But, as is the case with most land-based pools, you swim at your own risk.
Thankfully, there are steps all cruisers can take to keep themselves -- and their families -- safe at a cruise ship pool. Here are some essential tips to help ensure cruise pool safety ahead of your next family sailing.
Prep your kids for pool safety before your cruise.
To avoid the most tragic scenario of a drowning or near drowning, be sure to talk to your kids about pool safety long before you set sail. Most importantly, make sure your children understand that they are not to go in or near the pool or hot tub without an accompanying adult. Instruct them to avoid any pool drains, which can prove hazardous with their suction, and not to run or roughhouse by onboard pools.
Also essential: Enrolling your children in swimming lessons is a crucial safeguard so that they are comfortable in the water and know how to swim and stay afloat once they get there. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Don't expect the safety net that a lifeguard provides.
Only a handful of cruise lines provide lifeguards. The few that do are among the most kid-friendly, namely Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. That means that on most ships a trained professional will not be standing guard to look out for any potential problems. You'll need to provide that safety net for your own family -- or anyone else in the pool with you.
However, even in instances where lifeguards are employed, it's important to keep in mind that they're only there as backups: It's ultimately your responsibility to look after your children in the pool.
Related: Which Cruise Lines Have Lifeguards?
Remember that there's no substitute for direct adult supervision at the pool.
Sometimes, with the large crowds that cruise pools attract, the misconception arises that with so many eyes around, close adult supervision isn't as necessary. However, chances are that the other folks at the pool are very much in vacation mode and not necessarily on alert to keep an eye on your child. Also, just because your children are wearing life jackets or other flotation devices does not mean you do not need to supervise them.
This mistaken belief could be a tragic mistake: Quite simply, there is absolutely no substitute for direct adult supervision while at the pool, whether the kids are in or just near the water. A close eye at all times is essential. Make sure you (or another adult watching your kids) are not distracted by browsing on a phone or reading book; for this reason, having an older sibling stand in might not be the safest bet, given that children are generally more prone to distraction. It's best if the adult in charge knows how to swim.
While in and near the water with young pool-goers, note that the supervising adult -- one who is an experienced swimmer -- should aim to be within direct reach of the kids at all times.
Know how to respond in an emergency.
If, despite your best precautions, something does go awry, the adult in charge should get help quickly by flagging down a nearby crew member. If you frequent pools a lot, consider taking a safety and rescue course, or get a refresher on CPR.
It's important to keep in mind that drowning does not always look like the dramatic affair that you see depicted in the movies, complete with arms flailing and screams for help. Often, it happens quickly and quietly. If you notice a child doing something that doesn't seem right, don't hesitate to ensure that he or she is OK. When it comes to cruise pools, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
Related: Tips for Staying Safe on a Cruise