Recreational Water Safety

Ottawa Public Health reminds residents and visitors to stay safe around lakes and rivers. We have safety tips for preventing drowning and other injuries, sun safety reminders and suggestions for preventing infections while enjoying sun, sand and water.   

Public Pool, Public Spa and Class C Facilities Operator’s Manual
Public Pool, Public Spa and Class C Facilities Operator’s Manual (pdf - 6 MB) This document is currently not in an accessible format. An accessible document will be posted shortly.
Pool Opening or Re-Opening Notice Form for Operators
Please provide a completed Pool Opening or Re-Opening Notice Form to Ottawa Public Health a minimum of two weeks prior to the date you wish to open for the season.
Provincial Public Pools Regulation

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) has recently updated the Ontario Public Pools Regulation 565/90 under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. This regulation now includes the requirements previously found under Ontario Regulation 428/05 Public Spas as well as the addition of Ontario Regulation 141/18. Ottawa Public Health is supporting business owners and operators by providing a short summary of some of the changes that will take effect on July 1, 2018. For a complete list of these changes, refer to the MOHLTC’s website: Public Pools and

Disclosure of inspection reports

Every operator of a public pool or public spa shall ensure that the results of any inspections conducted by a Public Health Inspector are posted in accordance with the inspector’s request.

Pool operator training

Every operator shall be trained in public pool and public spa operation and maintenance, filtration systems, water chemistry and all relevant safety and emergency procedures.

Notice of opening or re-opening

At least 14 days before the re-opening of a public pool or public spa after any closure that lasts for more than four weeks, the owner or operator shall notify in writing to the local Medical Officer of Health or Public Health Inspector.

Pool chemistry

Every operator shall maintain the free available chlorine in every part of a public pool to at least 0.5 ppm but not more than 10 ppm.

Every operator shall maintain the free available chlorine or total bromine in every part of a public spa to at least 5 ppm but not more than 10 ppm.

Daily records

Every operator shall test and record the following each operating day, by means of manual test methods, a minimum of 30 minutes prior to opening: free available chlorine, total chlorine, pH, total alkalinity, water clarity, and, for a spa, water temperature.

Where the pool or spa has an automatic sensing device, the requirements mentioned above, must be further checked and recorded at least every four hours until the daily use period has ended.

For pools and spas without an automatic sensing device, the requirements mentioned above must be further manually checked and recorded at least every two hours until the daily use period has ended.

Class C facilities

The class of Class C facility has been established, being any of the following: A public wading pool, a public spray pad or public splash pad, a water slide receiving basin that serves solely as a receiving basin for persons at the bottom of a water slide.

Admission standard

Every owner and operator of a Class A pool shall establish a process to ensure a guardian or designated person supervises children under 10 years of age. The process must be communicated to the patrons and must include a swimming competency test.

Preventing injuries
 Summer Water Safety 
  • Always keep children within arms' reach, in and around the water. Never leave a child alone, whether it is in the bathtub, a swimming pool or any body of water such as rivers or lakes. 
  • Make sure children and weaker swimmers wear properly fitted life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFD) in and around the water. 
  • Stay sober.  Do not use alcohol, cannabis or drugs when swimming or supervising others in the water. 
  • Keep safety equipment and a phone close to the pool. 
  • Ottawa Public Health recommends installing four-sided fencing to ensure access to a pool is completely separate from the house, preventing direct access by a child. 
  • Consider keeping young children out of hot tubs.  Talk with your doctor before you allow children under the age of five to use a hot tub.  Hot tubs are too hot for young children, may have high bacteria, and the drain in the hot tub can trap children. For more information on hot tub safety, please visit HealthLinkBC
  • Don’t swim alone. Always swim with others who know how to swim.
  • Where lifeguard supervision is available, swim in areas where lifeguards are on duty. One percent of fatal drownings in Ontario occur in lifeguarded settings. 
  • Be aware of the limits of your swimming abilities.
  • Be aware of the conditions where you swim. Watch for currents and changes in the lake or river bottom. 
  • Make sure you and your family members learn to swim
  • Enjoy safe boating. Make sure that you and your family members always wear a properly sized lifejacket/PFD for all water activities. When not in use, lifejackets/PFDs need to be kept in a dry, ventilated area and out of direct sunlight. 
  • Know what to do in an emergency, including CPR and calling 9-1-1. 
 Talk with Children about Water Safety

Teach your child to: 

  • Stay away from fast moving water like rivers and streams. Explain to them that there are currents in lakes and rivers.
  • Call 9-1-1 when anyone is in trouble.
  • Never swim alone or without an adult present
  • Wear a properly fitted lifejacket/PFD.
  • Check the water: how deep is it? Are there any dangers in the water?

Winter Water Safety

Ottawa winters are becoming shorter and warmer due to climate change. Did you know that the ice on a river or lake must be 6 inches thick to support just one person? It needs to be a lot thicker to support more people or a vehicle. Here are some tips to keep you and others safe around ice this winter:

  • If you are not sure if the ice is safe, stay off the ice and choose an indoor/outdoor rink to skate. More information at Skating|City of Ottawa.
  • All ice on rivers, lakes or streams can be risky.
  • Check the ice conditions:
    • Clear blue ice is strong and the safest
    • White ice is half as strong and can cover up dangers
    • Grey ice is unsafe and will not support much weight
  • Many things affect the thickness of ice, including:
    • salt from roads
    • currents and rocks or trees below the surface
    • changing temperatures
  • Monitor the weather. Consistent temperatures below freezing are needed for natural bodies of water to freeze.
  • Wear a life jacket; it buys you time if you fall through the ice.
  • Avoid stormwater management ponds- ice on these ponds is unstable and not safe for recreational activities.
  • Don’t go out onto ice alone or at night.
  • Always keep your dog on a leash when near water (rivers, streams or lakes).
  • Learn about what you can do if you or someone you are with falls through the ice. More information at
  • Wear a hockey helmet when on the ice to protect your brain.
Sun safety

Ultraviolet rays (UVR) are a public health concern because:

  • Canadians have been increasing their time in the sun;
  • UVR can harm all types of skin tones, as well as the eyes;
  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, and rates of melanoma are increasing.

 Enjoy the sun safely: Protect your skin and your eyes

 When heading outdoors:

 Protect your skin
  • Check the daily forecast for the UV Index UV Index forecast.  When the UV Index is 3 or higher, protect your skin accordingly. In general, the UV Index in Canada can be 3 or higher from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and September, even when it's cloudy.
  • Seek shade or bring your own (e.g., an umbrella).
  • Wear clothing and your favorite wide-brimmed hat that cover as much skin as possible, as appropriate to the activity and weather.
  • Use sunscreen labelled "broad spectrum" and "water-resistant" with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, on skin not covered by clothing. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply at least every two hours.
  • Avoid getting a sunburn or deliberately trying to get a suntan, and avoid using UV tanning equipment.
 Protect your eyes
  • Wear sunglasses or prescription eyeglasses with UV-protective lenses.
  • Wear your favorite wide-brimmed hat for added eye protection.
 Additional recommendations
  • Use sources of vitamin D that are safer than UVR exposure, e.g., choose your favorite dietary sources from vitamin D fortified foods, and vitamin D supplements. Intentional UVR exposure to meet vitamin D requirements is not recommended.

Tips to make this easy:

  • Good-quality shade includes dense vegetation and covered structures that offer shade from the side, and not just overhead, to protect against scattered UVR.
  • Cloth sources of shade, such as canopies and umbrellas, should have tightly woven fabric.
  • Additional personal protection (clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen) is recommended even when in the shade to protect against scattered UVR, especially on high UV Index days.
  • Hats with a wide brim that shade the head, face, ears and back of the neck are best.
  • In general, clothing provides better protection than sunscreen.
  • Tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing is recommended.
  •  Use sunscreen that says on the label:
    • "Broad spectrum"
    • "SPF 30" or higher
    • "Water resistant"
  • Sunscreen should be used on exposed skin not covered by protective clothing for the best protection. Consider using sunscreen for the lips (e.g., sunscreen lip balm) as well.
  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen (e.g., the average adult requires approximately two to three tablespoons of lotion-formulated sunscreen to cover the whole body, and a teaspoon to cover the face and neck).
  • Reapply after swimming, strenuous exercise, or toweling off.
  • Sunscreen comes in a variety of formulations. Find one that suits you best and apply it properly with thorough coverage. Sunscreen formulations that you find easier to apply thoroughly will be more effective.
 Eye protection
  • Because UVR is harmful to the eyes and is present in the sun's rays all year round and throughout the day, eye protection may be required even when skin protection is not.
  • Eye protection is essential around highly reflective environments, such as snow, sand and water to prevent UV damage to the eyes.
  • The best UV protection for eyes is offered by close-fitting wraparound sunglasses.
  • Opt for sunglasses or prescription lenses offering complete protection against UVA and UVB, for example lenses labelled "UV400" or "100% UV protection."
  • Wear your favourite wide-brimmed hat for added eye protection.

Check out this video from the Canadian Cancer Society:


Babies and Children

Overexposure to UV radiation in childhood increases the risk of skin cancer:

  • It is best to keep babies under one year out of direct sunlight at all times.
  • Use a canopy or umbrella over your baby's stroller to give shade.
  • Have children wear protective clothing, hat and sunglasses.
  • Sunscreen should not be applied to a baby less than 6 months old.

Childcares and Schools

Registering for the Canadian Cancer Society’s SunSense program will help your child’s childcare, school or summer camp create a sun safe environment. Access to resources for children, parents and educators will help teach your child lifelong habits to stay safe from harmful UV radiation.  

Artificial Tanning Equipment

Provincial legislation bans the use of tanning beds by youth 

The Ontario Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds) bans the use of tanning beds by youth under 18 years of age. This legislation protects youth from the proven dangers associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As of May 1st, 2014, all tanning bed operators have to comply with this legislation and are subject to an inspection in locations where ultraviolet tanning treatments are offered, including but not limited to, tanning salons, spas and fitness centers.

All tanning bed operators are required by law to register their business with OPH. If you operate a tanning bed, you must register your business by contacting the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-69656) or by email at



Preventing infections

Bathers swimming in local lakes, rivers and streams should always take preventive steps to reduce their risk of getting sick when swimming, even if swimming in an area that has not previously caused any health concerns or when beach results from the previous day indicate bacteria indicator organisms are not elevated. Beach water test results can only provide a snapshot of the previous day's water quality because it takes a full day for laboratory culturing of the live E.coli bacteria that are being measured. E. coli bacteria are used as an indicator of the presence of many disease causing organisms. The water at public beaches is tested for E. coli bacteria during the summer months by Ottawa Public Health.

Bacteria, viruses, and microscopic parasites are always present in surface water, and at elevated levels they can increase a swimmer's risk of becoming ill with a skin, eye, ear, nose, or throat infections, and gastrointestinal illness. Local influences on surface water can include wildlife and birds, human activity, rainfall and storm water runoff, wind and wave action, temperature, water flow, in some cases storm and combined sewer overflows. Recreational water quality in natural bodies of water can change from day to day and hour to hour as it is not protected or treated like most drinking water supplies or public swimming pools.

Tips to prevent recreational water acquired illnesses:

  • Do not swim if you are sick or experiencing diarrhea.
  • Avoid going into water with an open wound.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers, and change them in a place where germs will not come in contact with the water.
  • Don't swallow the water or take it in your mouth. It is best to keep your head out of the water.
  • Don't pee or poop in the water.
  • After swimming:
    • rinse yourself with treated water, if possible.
    • towel dry immediately.
    • dry ears thoroughly with a towel.
  • Wash hands carefully with soap and treated water or use an alcohol-based hand rub after using the toilet, changing diapers, or playing in the sand. Also before preparing foods, eating or smoking.
  • Consider postponing swimming after heavy rainfalls or high winds, which can bring pollutants into surface waters from runoff or wave action.

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