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Tips, Tutorials, and Checklists to help manage ministry risks

Zip Line Safety for Camps

Zip lines provide high-flying fun for campers, but only with the proper maintenance and supervision.

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Zip lines have joined horseback rides, water slides, and campfires as a popular feature in youth camps. Young thrill-seekers particularly enjoy this high-flying ride, also known as an aerial rope slide or Tyrolean crossing. With the help of a safety harness and cable, zip lines allow riders to fly at high speeds through the treetops.

While a fun and exciting activity for campers, zip lines must be built according to industry standards and inspected regularly in order to remain as safe as possible. In addition, staff members must receive annual training. Without these three factors, accidents can happen.

One such accident occurred at a youth group retreat when a miscommunication caused two staff members to send a 12-year-old boy down the cable early. The boy struck a ladder near the middle of the line, fracturing his skull. Although the boy wore a safety harness and helmet, the collision’s impact proved fatal.

Cases like this illustrate how dangerous zip lines can be when not built, inspected, and supervised properly. As with other youth camp activities, it’s important to have a safety mindset with zip lines.

DIY Not Recommended

With an average cost of $150 to $400, do-it-yourself zip lines are relatively inexpensive to install. However, the dangers that these kits pose offset their low price tag. In most DIY kits, a metal or plastic handle replaces the safety harness used in professionally installed zip lines. If the rider’s grip loosens, a fall could prove disastrous.

Hiring a professional contractor to install a zip line may cost more, but a ride built to industry standards will be far safer for campers. It can also remove much of the liability from camp owners and operators.

The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) sets the industry standards for zip lines. Brotherhood Mutual requires camps to have all zip lines installed or inspected by an ACCT-certified before the first rider straps on a safety vest and zips through the treetops.

Annual Inspections Important

After receiving initial approval, it’s wise to have an ACCT-certified inspector perform yearly inspections. Some states, including Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Ohio, and California, have laws requiring all camps and organization to inspect their zip lines annually. Find a list of states that require zip line inspections at ZipLineInspection.com.

Even if state law doesn’t insist upon yearly examinations, some camping organizations require all accredited camps to inspect their zip lines annually. These checkups can help prevent accidents caused by weakened supports, worn-out cables, and damaged safety vests.

In addition to annual inspections, it’s a good practice to give all zip lines daily maintenance. Brotherhood Mutual recommends that staff members check zip lines thoroughly each day before opening them up to ride. A policy that requires daily zip line maintenance will offer campers the safest experience possible.

Annual Training for Staff

Even if a zip line is built to industry standards and receives annual inspections, the ride will not be safe without a well-trained staff. Brotherhood Mutual suggests that camps train all zip line staff regularly. Some key ways to maintain a safe environment include:

  • Hiring staff members who can administer basic first aid and perform CPR.
  • Maintaining an adequate staff/camper ratio at all times. If there are not enough staff members to supervise the zip line, it should be kept off limits.
  • Reminding staff members to stay alert. Zip lines demand constant supervision while in use.

Because of human error, there is no such thing as a completely risk-free zip line. However, if built to industry standards, inspected annually, and well-monitored by a trained staff, a zip line can be one of a camp’s safest attractions. When properly cared for, this exciting ride can provide high-flying fun for campers throughout the camping season.