How to Become a Lifeguard: Everything You Need to Know

How to Become a Lifeguard: Everything You Need to Know

When you think of summer, you think of the sun, warmth, relaxation, and sitting at the beach or by the pool. You might be considering turning this favorite activity into a job: Being a lifeguard. Before you dive in head first, check out our guide and get all the information you need about becoming a lifeguard.

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Summer is almost here and it’s time to start looking for a job. Maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “I could be a lifeguard.” All ready for your days in the sun? The wind in your hair, the little red swimsuit, looking at all the eye candy? Sounds like the perfect job, no? No matter how much Baywatch you see, it will never be the reality. Zac Efron (or Pamela Anderson for you old-school Baywatch fans) is not going to show up at the beach and help you save someone’s life. Being a lifeguard will probably be a lot less exciting and a great deal more difficult than what you see on screen. But we can always dream, right? Please don’t stare at the picture for too long. We don’t want to distract you from reading the rest of this.

Baywatch How to become a lifeguard


Oh, good. You made it past the image. So, now that we are on the same page: Lifeguarding is rarely, if ever, like Baywatch, let’s see what it takes to start your job or career as a lifeguard. 

Qualities of a Lifeguard

Are you the lifeguarding type? Not everyone is cut out to be a lifeguard and that’s okay. Do you think you have what it takes?

The basic job of a lifeguard is to prevent drowning and other injuries. You will do this by keeping close watch of everyone in the area, enforcing rules, responding quickly to situations, administering first aid, working as a team, testing the water, and maintaining the facility. 

In order to perform these tasks to the best of your ability, trainers and employers usually look for lifeguards with certain qualities.

  • Knowledgeable—do you have all the knowledge and skills you need to perform this job under pressure?
  • Reliable—will people be able to rely on you: will you get to work on time and be committed to doing it well at all times?
  • Mature—are you responsible enough to treat this work seriously and act as a leader and team member?
  • Courteous—will you be able to be polite when you have to enforce the rules and when interacting with guests?
  • Positive—can you keep up a positive attitude even when things go wrong?
  • Professional—do you have the qualities of a professional? Will people see you following the rules and doing the job to the best of your ability or slacking off and goofing around?
  • Fit—will you work on staying fit and healthy so that you can be available to do your best work every day?
  • Quick-thinking—are you able to make quick decisions under pressure?
  • Ready to learn—are you willing to take feedback and learn new skills?
  • Communicative—do you have good communication skills and do you know when to keep things confidential?

If you answered all these questions positively, then you are well on your way to becoming an excellent lifeguard. If you answered no, think about what you can do differently if lifeguarding is your dream job.

Lifeguard watching pool

Lifeguarding or Lifesaving

When you first look into becoming a lifeguard, there are a lot of resources online. We are going to use two main resources: the American Red Cross and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). These two organizations offer training programs in lifeguarding and lifesaving. The USLA is specific to beach lifeguarding and open water rescues, while the American Red Cross offers more general training courses. When becoming a lifeguard it is important to think about what kind of lifeguard you want to become and look at the certification requirements on the association websites. For more information about the USLA or to purchase the United States Lifesaving Association Manual, you can visit their website.

Starting Life as a Lifeguard

To get started, you will need to take a class. We recommend taking a course certified by the American Red Cross as it will help prepare you for being a lifeguard and give you a better chance at getting a job. You can find a list of classes in your areas on the Red Cross website. Training can cost up to around $300 and take about 30 hours or more. 

Lifeguard Training Course

There are two main parts to most training courses, including the American Red Cross training. The first part of the course is actually a pretest. This physical swimming test must be completed before you can continue with the main course.

  • Swim 300 yards using the front crawl, breaststroke or both. Swimming on your back or side is not allowed. 
  • Tread water for 2 minutes using only your legs.
  • Complete a timed course in 1 minute, 40 seconds or less. The course consists of swimming 20 yards without goggles, surface diving to a depth of 7 to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object, swimming another 20 yards holding the object so that your face is above the water, and exiting the water without using a ladder or steps. 

Then comes the actual training course. In order to pass you must meet the following criteria:

  • Attend all sessions
  • Perform all the required skills
  • Pass three final scenarios and receive a minimum grade of 80% on the written exam

Lifeguard helping woman out of pool

Taking the Course

So, you're ready to take the course. Are you ready for everything in it? The American Red Cross Lifeguard Manual covers many topics.

  • Responsibilities of a Lifeguard
  • Facility Safety
  • Effective Surveillance
  • Injury Prevention
  • Emergency Action Plans
  • Water Rescue Skills
  • Victim Assessment Prior To Providing Care
  • Breathing Emergencies
  • Cardiac Emergencies
  • First Aid
  • Caring for head, neck and spinal injuries

For a more in-depth look at what skills you need to know by the end of the training, you can find the manual online at the American Red Cross website. 

You will have to learn things such as:

  • Working at ground-level and elevated stations
  • Various jumps and entries
  • Kinds of assists
  • How to help submerged victims
  • Carrying or assisting victims on land
  • Using a rescue board
  • Using watercraft
  • Using resuscitation devices
  • CPR and other lifesaving maneuvers
  • How to treat external and internal injuries
  • Facility safety checks
  • Consent and legal issues

Must Know Lifeguarding Equipment

No matter what kind of lifeguarding job you have, it’s important to know what kind of equipment you need and how to use it. The list below is good to have in mind when starting a new job. If your employer does not have the right equipment, you can use this list to help make some recommendations.

Rescue equipment

  • Rescue flotation device
  • Masks and snorkel, especially for beach lifeguards
  • Binoculars
  • Markey buoys
  • Swim fins


  • First aid kits for minor and major injuries
  • Spinal stabilization tool
  • Bloodborne pathogen safety equipment
  • Oxygen tank
  • Cardiac defibrillator (for trained staff only)


  • Whistles
  • Air horns
  • Megaphones
  • Flags
  • Sirens
  • Devices to communicate with other lifeguards (phones or walkie-talkies)
  • Devices to reach emergency services quickly

Personal Needs

  • Sunscreen
  • Proper attire
  • Sun protection devices
  • Water bottles


  • Incident forms
  • Check-in lists
  • Staff schedules

Lifeguard hut on beach

Finding a Job

Now that you have all the skills you need, you are ready to get out there and start guarding lives, as the name of the job implies. There are many ways you can find a job.

  • School—if you're a student in college or high school, ask your guidance counselor or career center staff.
  • Training program—ask the staff at your training program if they know of anyone who is hiring. They might be able to connect you with someone looking for a lifeguard.
  • Local pools or parks—visit local pools or water parks (or their websites) to see if they are hiring any new lifeguards.
  • Community organizations—some cities and towns have a parks and recreation department that hires lifeguards for the recreation areas they manage.
  • Job boards—online or local job boards might have listings for lifeguarding jobs. 
  • Networking—tell everyone you know that you are a certified lifeguard. You never know, you could start getting hired at private parties and events. 

The Truth about Being a Lifeguard

By now you have probably gotten the idea that being a lifeguard is hard work. It’s not a bunch of slow motion scenes of running and saving lives.

That could by why many lifeguarding jobs go unfilled. The American Red Cross trains over 100,000 lifeguards each year, but there are still beaches and pools with open positions. It’s good to have all the information you need before you go through all the training requirements. Time for a reality check. 

  • The pay—most lifeguards are paid at or a bit below minimum wage. For how stressful these jobs are, this might not be enough for some people. Just be aware that you're not going to make any more than you would if you worked at a fast food restaurant over the summer. 
  • The skills—when it comes to swimming, you really have to know your stuff. Just because you can swim across a pool doesn't mean you'll be a good lifeguard. 
  • The burns—you will be out in the sun all day. Be prepared to apply sunscreen all day or get a nasty burn. No one wants to be the lifeguarding lobster after the first day. 
  • The kids—if you can’t stand the sight or the sound of kids, you might want to skip this summer job. At beaches and pools, there are usually kids everywhere, every day. Those kids might not like rules, they might not care about rules, and they might have parents who expect you to be their babysitter. 
  • The accidents—we aren’t talking about just any accident, but you know the kind we mean (insert toilet flushing sound here). Yes, you will have to deal with this and you might even have to get more up close and personal than you ever wanted to.
  • The stress—there will be distractions everywhere and it can seem like an impossible task to have to watch every person, every second they're there. All you can do is the best you can, but be ready to handle the stress of emergencies, parents, kids, and everything in general.
  • The other jobs—at most pools and beaches, lifeguards have other jobs to do too. You might be asked to clean the bathrooms every day or run a concession stand. 

Sorry if we burst your lifeguarding bubble. We know that some of this may not have been what you expected. So, if you want to go back to visions of fit bodies running down the beach, we won’t stop you. We get it...and good luck! If you prefer for your dreams to stay on the the big screen, the new Baywatch remake comes out May 26th for your viewing pleasure. 

baywatch trailer lifeguard

Image: YouTube

baywatch become a lifeguard

Image: Goliath