What Does a Lifeguard Do? Duties, Qualifications and Skills
Updated March 16, 2023
Lifeguards ensure the safety of swimmers at several locations. These individuals use their training and athletic ability to give instructions and intervene in unsafe situations. If you're a strong swimmer and you enjoy helping others, learning more about what lifeguards do might help you determine whether you'd like to pursue this career.
In this article, we explain what a lifeguard does, discuss skills and qualifications for this job and explore related career options.
What does a lifeguard do?
Lifeguards monitor pools, beaches, water parks and other areas that involve swimming to maintain safety at all times. They receive training in water safety and may rescue swimmers who are sick, hurt, sick or in distress. A lifeguard might also:
Keep a pool, beach or other areas clean and free of debris
Open and close the facility to visitors
Conduct light administrative duties
Oversee swimmers, lead swim lessons and coach swim teams
Monitor weather reports and direct swimmers out of the area when necessary
Regularly treat the pool with the appropriate chemicals
Warn beachside swimmers of riptides and direct them to safe swimming areas
Lifeguarding often requires the following training and certifications:
There are rarely formal education requirements for lifeguards. Many are in high school, working toward obtaining their high school diplomas or General Educational Development (GED) credentials. Pool management personnel at colleges and universities routinely employ lifeguards who are students pursuing their bachelor's and graduate degrees. Some beaches may employ professional lifeguards.
Training is an important part of becoming a lifeguard. After offering jobs to seasonal staff, most pools hold formal training sessions for all lifeguards. Training may include:
Some lifeguards also receive training in pool treatment and swim lessons.
Many lifeguard jobs require certain certifications. It can be helpful to obtain these before job searching so you can include them on a resume. Some pools and recreation departments sponsor certification classes before the summer season or allow employees to take classes after the hiring process before the season begins.
Here are some specific certifications to consider:
First aid and CPR certification: All lifeguards need to have valid, current certification in both first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The American Red Cross and similar organizations offer first aid and CPR.
Lifeguard certification: Many lifeguarding positions require certification through an American Red Cross Lifeguarding & Water Safety class, which results in a lifeguard certificate. These classes include safety and rescue techniques, CPR, first aid and automated external defibrillators (AED).
Combined CPR and lifeguarding certification: Some lifeguards choose to get their first aid, CPR certification and lifeguard certification at the same time. These courses often require a pre-course swimming test and a minimum age of at least 15 years old.
To be a successful lifeguard job candidate, work toward developing the following skills:
Swimming and physical fitness
To keep others safe, it's important for lifeguards to be excellent swimmers. This entails:
Swimming confidently and quickly
Treading water for many minutes
Diving swiftly into the pool
In emergencies, lifeguards may pull other individuals out of the pool, dive to reach drowning swimmers or otherwise help people in distress.
Lifeguards spend most of their shifts watching the surrounding environment. They watch the water and the surrounding area to make sure everyone is staying safe. This requires them to be alert and attentive at all times. A great lifeguard can spot a hazard before it becomes dangerous, such as a piece of debris near the pool.
During moments of calm and moments of distress, it's important for lifeguards to communicate clearly. They often give directions, such as “No running” or “The pool is closing in 15 minutes.” Lifeguards who teach swim lessons or coach swim teams communicate frequently with children, teens and parents. In an emergency, a lifeguard may shout for help, write an incident report or communicate clearly with an emergency response team.
At a pool or beach, lifeguards can oversee many people. They may command authority and respect to maintain a safe environment. An effective leader may give directions easily and keep swimmers safe. After working as a lifeguard for one season or more, you might lead or manage other staff members.
Related: What Does Leadership Mean?
Lifeguard work environment
Lifeguards work in a diverse array of environments. Some work for small pools, while others work for large aquatic centers and water parks or at beaches. Most lifeguards work outside, sometimes in direct sunlight for long periods of time. Sunscreen, hats and other protective gear may help keep them safe from the effects of the sun. While most lifeguard jobs are seasonal, lifeguards may find other work during the off-season.
It's a lifeguard's job to monitor the pool closely and remain awake, alert and ready to jump into action should the need arise. Some lifeguards work closely with children and teens to provide swim lessons and swim team coaching. Most pools and beaches are busy on weekends, holidays and evenings. Lifeguards have flexible, variable schedules that can change according to weather, special events and staffing needs.
Average salary for lifeguards
The national average salary for lifeguards is $34,611 per year. Most lifeguards work seasonally since outdoor pools and water parks tend to stay open only during the summer. Some beaches may employ lifeguards year-round. The highest-paying cities for individuals who perform this job, according to Indeed data, include New York City, Charlotte, Houston, Colorado Springs and Las Vegas. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
Lifeguards may also enjoy the following common benefits along with their salary:
401(k) and 401(k) matching
Paid time off (PTO)
Related: 15 Best High-Paying Jobs for Teens
How to become a lifeguard
If you'd like to become a lifeguard, you can follow these steps:
1. Develop swimming skills and physical fitness
To efficiently and effectively keep swimmers safe, it's important to be physically able to help. You can develop effective swimming skills by joining a swimming or diving team. Some lifeguard jobs require physical tests that measure your swimming skills. A combination of swimming workouts and cross-training can help you get ready to apply for lifeguard jobs.
2. Enroll in a lifeguard certification training
Lifeguards who have certification may benefit from certification. Find a class at your local American Red Cross, aquatic center or community college. If you already have the necessary skills, you might be able to take a certification test and bypass the training course.
3. Search for jobs
Look for lifeguarding jobs at:
As you prepare your resume and cover letter, be sure to highlight any training and certifications. You can also list swim team participation and any other relevant job experience.
Read more: How To Become a Lifeguard
Lifeguard job description example
Here's an example of a lifeguard job description:
Park District Pool is hoping to hire a lifeguard for the coming pool season. The pool opens on Memorial Day in May and closes on Labor Day in September. The best candidates might have:
Prior pool experience
The ability to work flexible shifts throughout the summer
First aid skills
CPR and lifeguarding certifications
An ideal candidate may also have excellent swimming and diving skills, reliable transportation and prior experience. We plan to consider successful applicants for swim lesson positions and swim team coaching.
3 related careers to a lifeguard
Here are some other careers to consider if you think you might want to pursue a similar role to a lifeguard. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.
National average salary: $31,954 per year
Primary duties: A pool attendant helps ensure a safe, comfortable environment at a pool. They often work at resorts, hotels, water parks, and similar facilities. Pool attendants' responsibilities may include answering guest questions, cleaning the pool, setting up furniture, monitoring guest behavior and restocking supplies
National average salary: $34,939 per year
Primary duties: A camp counselor is responsible for monitoring groups of children. They plan age-appropriate activities for children to complete, and they lead and supervise them in doing these activities. Camp counselors typically work outdoors, and, depending on the facility, may have activities related to swimming, boating or canoeing.
National average salary: $63,165 per year
Primary duties: A swim instructor teaches people how to swim or improve their techniques. While they often work with children, they may assist swimmers of all ages. Swim instructors may work for gyms, community centers or other recreation facilities, and they establish and enforce rules that prioritize safety in the water.
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