Your neighborhood pool - if you have one [WORD ILLEGIBLE] is full up, with a waiting list two years long. You can't afford a country club, or don't believe in them. Or your apartment was built before the discovery of the rooftop pool.

How far do you go in search of a swim?

Public pools, though overabundantly supplied with screaming, splashing kids, are a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] But maybe you want more than suntan and water games. You may want more social life, a swim team or a dip downtown on your lunch hour. Or maybe you just [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to belong.

One mother of three who lives in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Washington spent a long time looking for the right pool: one with a swim team for her children. "This is a dead city for swimming," Donna McGavin says after her search. "There are just no pools. There are some very nice little clubs that belong to neighborhoods, but you have to live in them. Palisades [in Bethesda] is really the nicest for a family pool. But they have a two-to five-year waiting list. Usually after two years you can only get a summer rental from a member who doesn't want to sell.

This one bugs me the most. You can join the YMCA on Old Georgetown Road . . . they have a two-year waiting list to get a family membership. But you can get a single membership." County zoning restrictions limit the number of families that can join in Bethesda-Chevy Chase Y. But this Y also manages Bethesda's Pooks Hill Swimming Club, where a family of two signing up for the summer pays $150; each additional person, $25; and a single member, $110. The Y teaches lessons there, too.

McGavin ended up going to a little pool over in McLean, but, she says, "I can't even go there till after 3 and on weekends, because they run a day camp there."

Besides city- and county-run pools, there are pools attached to institutions. Mount Vernon Junior College pool has offered summer memberships since 1975: Already its waiting list numbers 100. The refundable initial fee is, for a family, $500; annual dues $200. For a single member, $250 initially and $150 annually. If you got on the waiting list, there might be room for you in a few years. As for the tennis club, don't even ask.

To avoid waiting lists, the best shot is to try clubs that don't have permanent members: Everyone joins, or rejoins, for one summer at a time.

Though the appurtenances don't match Mount Vernon's, there are opening at Jeleff Boys' and Girls' Club, behind the Georgetwon Safeway. The pool has fixed adult swim hours. A drawback is the view of Safeway's parking lot, not to mention its view of you. Family membership for the summer is $75; single, $50.

Beauvoir School's outdoor pool at the National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue offers family memberships for $230, single ones for $145. But it, too, is closed weekdays till 3 because a day camp uses it.

When you've run out of institutions, what's left is the hotel swim club, where you tend to spend a lot more time at the pool than in it.

John Schulter, who owns and edits The In Towner, a monthly newspaper, belongs to the Washington Hilton pool on Connecticut Avenue. "Basically," he says, "I think most people go to pools in this city for the social element. It's an alternative form of finding or mixing with people. There are such little opportunities here in the city for people to get to know one another and a pool provides this, especially for the 25-to-35 age group. It provides a certain ambiance, a certain atmosphere, where they can get together, and you see it here at the Hilton pool.

"One of the problems is that the [cost] is steadily rising, so much so that it becomes very prohibitive to many people. This year it's $425.

"The only ones who can afford to use the Hilton pool are the shrinks and the cosmetic surgeons. They are the only ones who didn't drop out this year. The 'poor folks' on the periphery dropped out. The only reason I didn't is that I live across the street. I walk across the street in my bathing suit."

Some of the people who dropped out moved to the Shoreham pool. Rates are lower for families $500 a couple and $100 for each child, compared to $425 per person at the Hilton.

Why would anyone pay to swim when the beach is three hours away? Morbid fear of the Bay Bridge? Linda Cashdan, who belongs to the Shoreham with her husband, David, and children, thinks it's just too much trouble to go to the beach.Besides, maybe the kids wouldn't appreciate it anyway. "We were on vacation in Florida," Cashdan says, "and driving along the Keys, David said to the children, 'Look at that water. Have you ever seen water that blue?' And they said, 'Yes, at the Shoreham pool.'"

David Cashdan says there are three families that really get their money's worth there: They live in the neighborhood and stop by to swim weekdays. Weekends they go early, he says, so they get the pool to themselves. There are two groups of swimmers, he says: families and "people who've enjoyed life, who've been out late the night before, who don't have children. Who came down at noon." For them, it's a crowded pool.

One young woman, a Shoreham member, says she actually saves money by joining a pool: It keeps her out of the stores on Saturdays. She says she knows a woman who belongs to both the Hilton and Shoreham pools: "My friend joined one with her boyfriend. But she doesn't think the relationship is going to last the summer, so she joined the other pool, too. Insurance. But don't use my name. She'd kill me for saying this."

These are two better-known hotel pools. But there are others that offer memberships. Among them, in District, there's Sheraton Park, Gramercy Inn, Executive House and two Holiday Inns, at 1900 Connecticut Ave. and at Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert Streets NW.

The Connecticut Avenue Holiday Inn is unique because it offers day rates for swimmers, something the other hotels avoid. If you just want to go for a day, pay $2. Single summer members pay $75; couples, $100. The rate is low, maybe because adjacent buildings block out a lot of the sun.

Other hotel pools around the Beltway that offer memberships are Key Bridge Marriott, and Holiday Inns at these locations: 10000 Baltimore Ave. and 9137 Baltimore Blvd., College Park; 1960 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; Route 198, Laurel.

But if seems that Virginians and Marylanders don't have a summer swim problem. Suburban home-owners have their answer in community pools. There are about 80 of these in Montgomery County alone, and about 90 in Northern Virginia. When these lucky swimmers bought their homes, they could buy the former owners' share in the local pool. The initial share usually costs around $300, returned to the homeowner should he or she move away or give up membership. Annual dues are from $65 to $100 for a family. Occasionally, a family will go away for the summer and rent their membership. In this case, someone who doesn't live in the neighborhood can rent in for the summer.

One example of this is Bannockburn pool on Laverock Lane in Bethesda. The payment for new neighborhood residents is $300.The annual fee is $75 for one or two swimmers and $85 for three or four members. Summer rentals, and there may be as many as 50 a season, go for $145.

Waynewood Pool in Alexandria can't even make this exception. The agreement with the builder requires that all pool members live in the community. A share here is $300; annual dues $125.

Occasionally, a neighborhood pool doesn't exclude people outside the area. Though most permanent members do live nearby, anyone can join Little Hunting Park Club, on Canterbury Lane, Alexandria. The book value of a membership is $175; annual dues, $110.

Swimming holes retain their charm. Last year was the leading year in U.S. residential pool sales - 87,400 new ones, according to Swimming Pool Weekly, a trade publication.

Somewhere, there's a pool for everyone. Some amusement parks are building flumes, where a swimmer on a raft slides down a water trough. For divers, there's a pool designed to send a barrage of bubbles up from the bottom every minutes. Less impact, they say.

And, for sentimentalists returning seasonally to the sea, there's crystal-blue water and eight-foot-high waves crashing on a sloping beach . . . It's all there in an invention called The Wave Pool.