What Does a Lifeguard Do? Duties, Qualifications and Skills

Updated March 16, 2023

A camp counselor (coach) talks with kids swimming in a pool.

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

Related: A Lifeguard's Resume: What To Include

Lifeguard qualifications

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:

  • Water safety

  • Water rescue

  • First aid

  • Artificial respiration

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. 

Related: What Are Safety Certifications? Types of Certifications for Construction Professionals

Lifeguard skills

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. 

Alert attention

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.

Related: Lifeguard Resume Example and Template

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

  • Dental insurance

  • Disability insurance

  • Flexible schedule

  • Life insurance

  • Paid time off (PTO)

  • Paid training

  • Referral program

  • Retirement plan

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:

  • Local pools

  • Water parks

  • Beaches

  • Aquatic centers

  • Recreation departments

  • Online

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.

Related: 38 Lifeguard Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

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.

1. Pool attendant

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

2. Camp counselor

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.

3. Swim instructor

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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