Aims: The aim of this study was to examine a rapid method for detecting Escherichia coli and enterococci in recreational water. Methods and Results: Water samples were assayed for E. coli and enterococci by traditional and immunomagnetic separation/adenosine triphosphate (IMS/ATP) methods. Three sample treatments were evaluated for the IMS/ATP method: double filtration, single filtration, and direct analysis. Pearson's correlation analysis showed strong, significant, linear relations between IMS/ATP and traditional methods for all sample treatments; strongest linear correlations were with the direct analysis (r = 0.62 and 0.77 for E. coli and enterococci, respectively). Additionally, simple linear regression was used to estimate bacteria concentrations as a function of IMS/ATP results. The correct classification of water-quality criteria was 67% for E. coli and 80% for enterococci. Conclusions: The IMS/ATP method is a viable alternative to traditional methods for faecal-indicator bacteria. Significance and Impact of the Study: The IMS/ATP method addresses critical public health needs for the rapid detection of faecal-indicator contamination and has potential for satisfying US legislative mandates requiring methods to detect bathing water contamination in 2 h or less. Moreover, IMS/ATP equipment is considerably less costly and more portable than that for molecular methods, making the method suitable for field applications. ?? 2009 The Authors.