Two associations have developed new certification programs for aquatics professionals working in the public and commercial arenas.

The Florida Swimming Pool Association is set to debut a 16-hour course that covers the finer details of operating a pool under Florida’s strict standards — something the association felt existing educational programs lacked.

Likewise, the Association of Aquatic Professionals has launched its national “AqP” designation, which it believes will raise the bar of professionalism for pool operators.

For FSPA’s part, it felt that existing accreditations are too broad for its purposes. “The main feature of this course is that it’s actually Florida-specific,” said David Villandry, who chairs FSPA’s Public Swimming Pool Council. “We felt this would be better suited to our membership.”

With FSPA’s Florida Public Pool Specialist Certification, service technicians will be eligible to work on public pools and spas throughout the state. The certification will be valid for five years.

Florida has unique regulations governing public pools. It’s the only state that requires gravity drains on commercial pools. The state’s public pool rule, 64E-9, is exhaustively specific, detailing things such as types of safety equipment that are acceptable. For example, only one-piece shepherd hooks are allowed, not the telescoping kind.

“We are stricter than any other state in the U.S. as far as water quality,” said Villandry, who also is business development director for CES Water Quality in Jupiter.

Because of this, some instructors were including modules into the coursework to make the material more applicable to Florida’s code, but this also had its shortcomings. So FSPA designed its own program.

The state-approved course will debut Feb. 10-11 at the Everything Under the Sun Expo in Orlando. For more information, call (800) 548-6774.

Meanwhile, AOAP’s new Aquatic Professional Designation, or AqP, was two years in the making.

The AqP designation shows that its bearer has, according to AOAP, “the education, background and training for what [we] believe describes an aquatic individual.”

Applicants must be members of the Association of Aquatic Professionals and undergo an online application process. There they will see listed the requirements, experience and CEUs they must meet or already have acquired to attain AqP designation.

Documentation must be provided to support the statements in the application, which goes to AOAP’s national office for evaluation and ultimate determination of whether to grant the AqP designation. If, for example, an applicant already has a lifeguard instructor and/or water safety instructor certification (one of the core requirements), they must provide documentation, so they can get credit for it toward the AqP designation.

Each new Aquatic Professional designee will receive a certificate and lapel pin. The AqP designation is good for three years, then needs to be renewed.

So far, 48 individuals have started the AqP application process, according to Juliene Hefter, executive director of AOAP.

The new designation was needed for several reasons, Hefter explained. For starters, it helps individuals gain recognition as professionals in the aquatics field. “We see in so many areas that aquatic people are not looked at as professionals,” she said. “They don’t get enough credit for saving lives, drowning prevention [and the like].”

Additionally, Hefter said, the AqP accreditation helps facilities find and hire aquatics professionals who have gone through a standardized educational program and met certain experience and certification requirements in the aquatics field. With such a program, the organization hopes to combat the common practice of assigning staffers without aquatics backgrounds, such as maintenance or custodial personnel, to run their pools.

The requirements for the AqP designation were decided by the Professional Development Committee, chaired by Chris Whipple, who’s also manager of lifeguards at University of Maryland. The committee also will assess how the new program is working, and make changes if needed.

Whipple said that AqP applicants can fulfill the educational requirements by attending AOAP conferences, and soon a new webinar series will be available, probably in mid- to late January.

Industry response to the program has been positive. “People are saying, ‘It’s been a long time coming,’” Hefter reported. “Our main goal is to take this [aquatics] field to the next level.”