How to Become a Lifeguard: Training, Certification, and Jobs

The role of a lifeguard

The main role of a lifeguard is self-explanatory: protecting lives. The guards are trained to effectively scan a body of water and the surrounding area to prevent and respond to emergencies. They are trained in first aid and CPR practices for professional rescuers, and are taught how to anticipate potential problems before they arise.

However, the work does not end there. Depending on the facility, guards may be required to man the cash register, clean the grounds, clean restrooms, teach swimming lessons, handle customer complaints, and perform other customer service duties as they arise. While these are great roles for young people to learn, they often come naturally to adults who have worked for a number of years. In fact, as someone who managed lifeguards for almost six years, I loved hiring adult guards because they were better at staying focused, not afraid to follow the rules, and earned more respect from a growing population of adult clients.

Become a lifeguard

Becoming a lifeguard requires an initial investment of time and money. Certification courses cost between $150 and $500 and take more than 30 hours to complete. If you have a specific facility where you would like to work, check with the manager to see what type of lifeguard certification they prefer. Most facilities accept certifications from the American Red Cross or Ellis and Associates, but YMCAs may require Y certifications. In addition, several other recognized certifications are available.

Read here more about online lifeguard training under the instructions of American lifeguard USA.

Before taking the course

This will seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll be surprised how many times I’ve been asked this: To be a lifeguard, you have to know how to swim. Certification courses require several swim tests before the class begins, and if you cannot pass the tests, you cannot continue taking the course. Swimming requirements vary by certification type, but at a minimum you must be able to swim 300 meters (six complete laps in a standard 25-meter pool) without resting while using the “rhythmic breathing” technique. Rhythmic breathing is simply the term used when you place your face in the water to exhale before lifting it out of the water to inhale.

Another factor that is extremely important is that you must have a strong kick. Some people swim primarily with their upper body, pushing themselves through the water with their arms. However, to be a lifeguard, you must be able to propel yourself with your legs, as your arms may be supporting a victim. Several of the prerequisite tests require you to swim without using your arms while holding a heavy object. Without a strong kick, you will have a hard time passing these tests.

The lifeguard course

Lifeguard courses consist of classroom education and discussion as well as practical skills scenarios. The instructors should give you a general program before the class begins, but always bring your bathing suit, a towel and a change of clothes to be prepared.

During a lifeguard course you will learn to:

  • Identify and prevent common land emergencies.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Work together with the rest of the lifeguard team.
  • Activate your facility’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
  • Interact appropriately with customers.
  • Perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED), equipment that can help your heart return to a normal rhythm.
  • Provide first aid and emergency care.
  • Properly scan a body of water to make sure all customers are safe and following the rules.
  • Identify water-based emergencies.
  • Perform water rescues for distressed swimmers and drowning victims.
  • Pull victims out of the water.
  • Respond appropriately to a victim with a head, neck, or back injury.
  • Support a victim in the water or on land when a head, neck, or back injury is suspected; this helps prevent movements that could cause further injury.
  • Act as a secondary rescuer, assisting the primary rescuer in a variety of tasks.
  • Fill out paperwork and report after an emergency.


To pass the course and become a certified lifeguard, you must attend all classes and perform all skills correctly. Periodically you will be required to take a written exam and on the last day you will take a series of skill scenarios. These are realistic “make or break” tests that require you to identify an ongoing emergency, respond appropriately, and provide the necessary care from start to finish.

The American Red Cross only allows two attempts to pass each scenario before you must retake the entire course. Instructors will not provide advice or tips during these scenarios, which is why it is so important to master the skills before the last day of the course.

Learn more about swimming: What Are The Benefits of swimming?