The Association of Aquatic Professionals: Advancing the Profession

This month, the Association of Aquatic Professionals holds its 11th annual Conference and Expo, providing an educational and networking experience for aquatic professionals in St. Pete Beach, Fla. In addition to networking opportunities and the ability to get up close and personal with many of the products that help keep aquatic facilities afloat, the conference features myriad educational tracks, including drowning prevention, executive development and leadership, programming and staff development, risk management and legal liability, diversity and inclusion, the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) and tracks for NIRSA/university aquatics, and health inspectors.

The Association of Aquatic Professionals is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation run by an all-volunteer board of directors, with full-time Executive Director and CEO Juliene Hefter at the helm.

According to the association's website, the organization's aims include:

  • Promoting and advocating policies, practices and procedures that contribute to safer and improved aquatic education, aquatic recreation activities, programs and facilities.
  • Providing and supporting quality aquatic education opportunities.
  • Coordinating and conducting research in the field of aquatic management and safety.
  • Promoting coordination and cooperation between established aquatic associations responsible for all aspects of aquatic programming, aquatic management, aquatic operation and maintenance, and aquatic facility design.

As part of its drowning prevention education program, RESPECT the Water, the AOAP uses a portion of its proceeds to support grants to aquatic facilities for swim lessons and life jackets. The AOAP allocates $5,000 annually for the program, with an annual goal of providing at least 100 free lessons to under-privileged participants, and to purchase and provide a minimum of 200 life jackets for organizations to use in their water safety efforts. The maximum grant for swim lessons is $500, while 50 life jackets is the maximum request for life jackets.

Continuing Education

One of the AOAP's main goals is to recognize individuals working in the aquatic field as professionals. To do so, it developed the Designated Aquatic Professional (AqP) certification. Educational sessions happen in-person at the AOAP conference or can be viewed online. Prerequisites include membership in the AOAP, work experience, current certifications in pool operations, basic First Aid, CPR/AED, and either lifeguard instructor or swim-instructor certification.

Learn more about becoming an AqP by visiting

Last year, the Mustang Aquatic Center in Mustang, Okla., was one of the grant recipients. The grant allowed the facility to teach life jacket safety to more than 600 swim lesson participants in the month of June alone, according to the AOAP website. YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, in Evansville, was another recipient.

To apply for the grant, local municipalities, universities and swim lesson providers must be current AOAP members for at least a year, and submit an application explaining how they will use the grant funds and how they will use the life jackets to promote drowning education within their learn-to-swim programs. There are four deadlines throughout the year, in January, April, July and October.

If you missed the AOAP Conference this year, you can look forward to 2022, when the AOAP will be partnering with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance's National Water Safety Conference, with the two events happening side-by-side in Colorado Springs, Colo.