I’m an ex-Butlins lifeguard and here’s why I’ll never let my kids wear armbands on holiday


WHEN I take my three sons to the pool on holiday, one typical swim accessory will be noticeably absent.

Armbands – an absolute bane in my former life as a leisure pool Butlins lifeguard – will definitely not be in there.


Armbands are a hugely popular swim accessory among parents of young children (stock)Credit: Alamy
Catherine Lofthouse used to work as a lifeguard and has vowed never to put armbands on her own children, pictured


Catherine Lofthouse used to work as a lifeguard and has vowed never to put armbands on her own children, picturedCredit: Catherine Lofthouse

The lazy river is anything but when you need to rescue a panicking
child who’s floated away from their parents and got stuck in an eddy,
only to realise they can’t swim against the current.

Nine times out of ten, the parents wouldn’t even be in sight and had
no idea their little one was in distress, and it only takes one
armband to slip off while a child is thrashing about, then they
really are in danger.

It’s not a scene I’d like to replay as a parent.
I vividly remember the one and only time we made my eldest son, now 9, wear armbands.

We were on holiday in Holland and the water park said anyone under 1.2m, no matter what their swimming ability, would have
to wear a flotation aid.

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He was about 1cm under the height limit and could already swim like a fish, but the rules were strictly enforced, so we splashed out on a pair of water wings.

At first he was excited about being able to float without any effort on his part, but he soon discovered that you can’t actually
swim properly.

My take on armbands is that they are the pool equivalent of those
little covers that parents put over plug sockets in the hope they will
stop little fingers being prodded in there.

Actually all the socket covers do is override the safety shutters inbuilt into the plug point – and much the same can be said for flotation aids.

Instead of fostering pool confidence and focusing on water safety, too many parents think armbands are the be-all-and-end-all to keeping their child out of danger.

We’ve just come back from a Haven caravan park holiday, where we swam every day.

The difference between my two-year-old, who knows to stay in his depth when we aren’t holding him, to cling to the wall and clamber along it to get to the steps to get out, and children aged 5 or 6, who are still in armbands with no water safety awareness, is worrying.

I even saw a toddler take a tumble and crack his head on the wet poolside while his mum was busy blowing up a rubber ring for him.

Their pool expedition was over before it had even started.

Haven has partnered with the RNLI to provide sessions themed around beach safety while on holiday.

We tried out the coastal detectives scavenger hunt, which gives you titbits of safety information, like which swimming flags to look for at the beach.

My older boys also took a water safety session and learnt how to throw a rope or a buoy to someone in distress.

Obviously I know not every parent feels confident in the water and so
I can see why armbands might float your boat, especially if you have
more than one young child to keep an eye on.

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But I’ve always thought that it should be one adult in the pool per child under the age of five, just because things can go wrong very quickly, especially when parents are lulled into a false sense of security by floats and armbands.

For me, keeping children close and teaching them the skills they might need to save themselves will always beat armbands’ overinflated claims to safety.

Catherine has argued that armbands give parents and children a misguided sense of security (stock)


Catherine has argued that armbands give parents and children a misguided sense of security (stock)Credit: Alamy

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