CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a lifeguard.
Is becoming a lifeguard right for me?
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Learn to swim / Learn about tides, water conditions, & marine life
Swimming is an essential part of being a lifeguard. Taking lessons is one way to become comfortable in the water and learn different swimming strokes, breathing techniques, and water safety.
Working as a lifeguard demands physical and psychological stamina. Joining a swim team and swimming in races help to prepare future lifeguards for stressful situations.
A lifeguard faces different elements guarding oceans and inland waters versus swimming pools. Individuals who intend to guard beaches should learn about currents, riptides, shore breaks, red tides, and other possible water conditions.
The seas and oceans are home to millions of different life forms, but some visit shorelines and beaches more commonly than others. Be aware of threats presented by jellyfish, sharks, crabs, and other swimming creatures that live along coastlines.
Lifeguarding demands a high level of fitness. Being physically prepared for any situation is crucial. This involves training and dedication.
Certifying organizations sometimes recommend that prospective lifeguards get medical clearance before enrolling in a certification program.
Training & Certification
Lifeguard certification training is available through numerous organizations and government agencies. While specific requirements vary by program, standard training covers rescue techniques, including use of a rescue board; cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR); First Aid; and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Students are instructed how to recognize emergency situations, prevent drownings, assist choking victims, and treat injuries including minor burns. Another component of some programs may be hazard communications training. Some lifeguard certification programs, like the one offered by the American Red Cross, include distinct CPR and AED certifications.
Before being certified, lifeguard students must pass a written exam which tests patron surveillance; victim assessment; care for neck, spine, and head injuries; and CPR techniques. The exam also tests candidates’ hands-on skills in responding to lifelike scenarios and simulated emergencies in progress.
Employment & Recertification
Lifeguard jobs are commonly available with community pools, public and private beaches, recreation departments, hotels, and resorts.
One of the keys to continued employment as a lifeguard is keeping certifications up to date. Most credentials are valid for between one to five years.
How to become a Lifeguard
In the United States, lifeguards must be certified. Certification classes are offered by the American Red Cross, American Pool (endorsed by the American Red Cross), the U.S. Lifesaving Association, the National Aquatic Society, the YMCA, pool and waterfront management companies, and safety and risk management firms.
Generally, classes cover and test water skills; cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); First Aid; and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The water skills component of training programs focuses on swimming, in-water strength, and specific rescue elements. Lifeguards must, of course, be physically fit enough to get in and out of the water quickly to rescue a drowning swimmer.
Many lifeguards who enter certification programs have earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Most employers expect this, as the job of lifeguard is about more than water safety. The position calls for a well-rounded individual with established life skills, capable of communicating with pool/beach/water park patrons, working in teams with other guards, and becoming a role model to the children visiting swimming facilities.
Individuals with a Bachelor’s Degree or five years of experience in lifeguarding are eligible to pursue certification from the U.S. National Recreation and Park Administration.
Because lifeguards interact closely with children and teens, some employers require a criminal background check.
Lifeguards who work in treatment or care facilities with particular clientele, such as the elderly or the disabled, typically need special training.