INTRODUCTION: The fourth-leading cause of death in middle childhood is drowning, but there is remarkably little known about swimmer or lifeguard behavior patterns at public swimming pools. METHOD: This study used non-intrusive observational methodology to examine risk-taking by swimming patrons (predominantly children) and surveillance habits of lifeguards at a public swimming pool. The study also examined whether risk-taking behavior might be associated with density of swimmers, temperature, or lifeguard behaviors. RESULTS: Results suggested risk-taking behavior was common, with dangerous incidents observed over 90 times per hour. Particularly high were rates of running on the deck, which exceeded 100 incidents per hour near the deepest water of the pool, and jumping into the water dangerously close to other swimmers, which was witnessed about once every two minutes in the shallow water of the pool. Lifeguards tended to scan the pool well, and remain attentive to the areas under their responsibility, but they were distracted about 10 times per hour and warned patrons only about once for every 14 dangerous incidents observed. CONCLUSIONS: No consistent correlates to risk-taking behavior by swimming pool patrons were identified. Results are discussed with respect to previous findings and implications for intervention. IMPACT ON INDUSTRY: Findings emphasize the need to increase awareness and adherence to safety rules by swimmers at swimming pools; to educate and remind lifeguards about proper swimming pool surveillance techniques; and to consider environmental changes at public swimming pools that might increase swimmer safety.