Where Have All the High Dives Gone?

Tom Griffiths, Ed.D, Aquatic Safety Expert

For the past 35 years or so, high dives (diving boards that are three-meters or 10-feet tall) have been disappearing from public and private swimming pools across the United States.  This swimming pool staple, which so many middle-aged and older Americans learned to love during their childhoods, is no longer available for their children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Statistics indicate that springboard diving is a very safe sport.  That is because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), USA Diving, and many other aquatic safety agencies have safety training programs for their coaches and follow strict depth and distance requirements to provide safe “diving envelopes” in the water for divers/jumpers. So, what’s the problem?

Far too many high dives were placed in recreational settings without the assistance of qualified coaches and springboard diving agencies.  Consequently, numerous falls to unprotected concrete decks below have occurred around the country resulting in death or paralysis.  Hence, high dives are quickly becoming dinosaurs.

In a Penn State study published in Athletic Business Magazine, highly trained divers were simply asked to step off the three-meter diving board and land safely, feet-first in the water ten feet below.  The average time elapsed for all subjects was approximately half a second.  This illustrates that accidental falls to the deck are just as fast and, as a result, extremely difficult to supervise.  Therefore, if existing three-meter diving boards are to remain in place, or if new high dives are to be installed, they must be engineered for safety by making them “fall-proof.”

What other activities allow minor children to climb unsupervised up a nearly vertical ladder over hard concrete with bare feet in a wet environment?  Children can no longer climb to heights on playgrounds or in water parks; however, there are still some pools that allow unsupervised and untrained young children to participate in this extremely dangerous activity.

Here are several alternatives to improve safety for three-meter diving boards:

  1. Remove the ladder and replace it with a safer stairway that includes landings and spindles, or even a circular stairway.  Both should have a multitude of safety railings small enough for a minor to grasp.
  2. Enclose and extend railings on the diving board level so that they go well beyond the swimming pool edge and cannot allow a minor to fall through or between the railings.  Connect the horizontal railings to the railing ascending from the pool deck, so that users do not have to let go of the ascending railing prior to grabbing the diving board railings.
  3. Pad and cushion the surrounding deck area below the diving board, just in case.  Many effective, soft, and cushioned paddings designed for aquatic facilities are now available to protect those who fall.
  4. Supervise, train, and regulate who can use the diving board and when. Consult reputable aquatic safety agencies such as USA Diving for additional details and resources.
  5. A swim test should always be required for anyone using any diving board because the minimum depth of water required is 12 feet.  Swim tests and wrist bands, to identify who has been qualified to use a facility’s diving boards, are highly recommended to best protect swimmers who want to use diving boards in deep water.

Older installations of high dives call for extraordinary efforts to ensure required safety standards are met.  Existing three-meter diving boards, originally constructed and installed in recreational settings to meet outdated standards, must either be renovated or removed to provide a safe opportunity for introducing young people to the thrill of springboard diving.  

All three-meter diving boards, regardless of the environment they are in, must be regulated and aggressively supervised.  Falling from a three-meter diving board to the concrete pool deck below has resulted in death and traumatic injuries, including catastrophic brain injuries.

Categories: Aquatic Safety | Aquatic Safety Expert | Sport, Fitness, and Recreation | Tom J. Griffiths, Ed.D.

Tags: Diving Board | High Dives | Industry Standards | Lifeguard | Pool | Risk Management | Safety Tips | Supervision


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