Minimalist ocean pools such as natural holes in the rock platforms or ring-of-rocks pools require little maintenance. Keeping the more elaborate ocean baths operational demands prompt attention to maintenance issues and sometimes major renovations.
While pool users accept the need for pools to be inspected, cleaned maintained and repaired, they are frustrated by infrequent cleaning and by lengthy pool closures. Repair and replacement work usually has little effect on the heritage significance of the ocean pools, which derives more from the social significance and aesthetic siting than from their construction methods and fabric.
For an ocean pool to survive, it usually needs champions. These can be local residents, or more formalised organisations such as surf lifesaving clubs, swimming clubs, progress associations or Chambers of Commerce. Those champions need a keen grasp of the priority tasks.
The highest maintenance priority is normally given to correcting matters that might cause injury to pool users and lead to litigation. High priority maintenance tasks include addressing:
- defective stairs,
- badly cracked and rough surfaces on the pool concourse and pool surrounds,
- slippery surfaces and surfaces with broken edges,
- oyster growths that may cause injuries,
- damage to scuppers, joints and pump surrounds,
- joint damage in the pool floors causing leakage problems, and
- post and rails/chains damaged by wave action.
Medium priority maintenance tasks include addressing:
- filling of holes in pool floors, and
- taking geotechnical advice on possible instability of cliffs and rock faces associated with the pools.
Low priority maintenance tasks include addressing cracks in concrete and render, which do not cause leaks or uneven surfaces and may have existed for years without causing problems.
The main materials used in the construction of ocean pools are concrete and wood. Each of these materials poses specific maintenance problems.
Concrete expands in hot weather and contracts in cold. Eventually it can crack. The amount of concrete used in a pool varies. The main concrete defects relate to:
- concrete cancer (This is where corrosion of the reinforcement results in cracking and spalling of adjacent concrete. This is most likely to occur where the concrete wasn’t deep enough over the reinforcement bars, or where an unsuitable concrete mix was used or where failure to properly compact the concrete allowed the reinforcement to rust and the expansion of the reinforcement bars disrupted the concrete),
- joint failures and damage to adjacent concrete (also often caused by reinforcement corrosion), and
- damage to trafficable surfaces by seawater and wave action.
Cracks in the concrete can:
- cause the pool to leak,
- create sharp edges that can injure unwary swimmers, and
- trap rotting seaweed, producing bad smells and threatening swimmers with skin irritations.
Badly abraded surfaces in the pool surrounds and concourses may need to be:
- replaced (This is an expensive but long-lasting repair. Removing damaged concrete and replacing it with new slabs helps avoid problems about maintaining the same levels.), or
- repaired with a thin overlay proven to endure in marine environments for a number of years. Protective coatings placed over damaged surfaces can only reduce the rate of the decay, not stop it.
Where corrosion-promoting agents remain in the concrete, the only permanent solution is to replace the defective concrete. While costly in the short-term, this can be less expensive in the long-term than repeated unsatisfactory local repairs. While more serviceable stainless steel or galvanised reinforcement should be generally used at ocean baths, placing stainless steel near any original mild steel bars can accelerate corrosion.
Dressing sheds and other wooden structures require constant maintenance as they risk damage from wind, water and worms.
Cleaning, testing and inspections
Some ocean pools need to be regularly cleared of sand, especially after substantial storms. In the past, this was sometimes a task tackled by working bees. Nowdays, sand can be remove from ocean pools by using front-end loaders with rubber tyres that minimise damage to the pool.
Cleaning schedules for ocean baths depend on the tides.
Water quality tests are now conducted routinely and regularly at many ocean pools.