Training for lifeguarding can be broadly divided into the following types:

  • basic (deep-water) lifeguarding training
  • waterfront lifeguarding training
  • shallow water lifeguarding training
  • surf lifeguarding training

While lifeguards training with basic lifeguard certification can be employed in most inland aquatic environments to work as professional lifeguards, people with shallow water lifeguard certification training can only work as volunteers / helpers or assistant lifeguards in water bodies with a depth of not more than 4/5 feet. As for ocean beaches, only lifeguards with training in surf lifeguarding are eligible.

Introduction and Prerequisites for Lifeguard Certification Training

Basic (Deep-Water) Lifeguard Certification Training

This is the required training for one aspire to be a pool or water park lifeguard. The pre-requisites for different lifeguard training courses may be different depending on the requirements of the certification standards. Before being admitted to the lifeguard training courses, you will have to pass a screen test and reach the age limit. Below is a list of common requirements you may expect (the details of different potions of screening test will be discussed further in a section below):

  1. At least 15 years old by the last day of class
  2. Pass a screening test (note: the detailed requirements may vary among certification bodies)
    • Have the ability to swim 300 yards including both breaststroke and crawl stroke and surface diving (depending on the issuing organization, the American Red Cross requires candidates to swim 300 yards each in the front crawl and breaststroke followed by, 300 yards again in either stroke or a combination of the two)
    • Can swim 10 yards with a weight of 20 pounds attached to the body
    • Be able to tread water for 2 minutes using legs only, must either hold hands out of water or place them under arm pits
    • Pass the “Brick Test

Waterfront/Surf Lifeguard Certification Training

Waterfront lifeguarding training and certification is a legal requirement for anyone working as a beach lifeguard or a surf coach internationally. The training course will give an essential foundation in ocean safety and lifeguarding skills. Pre-requisites for waterfront lifeguard certification training is much more demanding, you will need (the details of different potions of screening test will be discussed further in a section below):

  1. At least 15 years old by the last day of class
  2. Pass a screening test (note: the detailed requirements may vary among certification bodies)
    • Have the ability to swim 550 yards non-stop
    • Can swim 10 yards with a weight of 20 pounds attached to the body
    • Complete 20 yards of swim using legs only
    • Be able to tread water for 5 minutes using legs only, must either hold hands out of water or place them under arm pits
    • Pass the “Brick Test

Shallow Water Lifeguard Certification Training

Shallow water lifeguard training specifically applicable to rescue and emergency skills in water with a deep of less than five feet. Training is available to the general public to enhance safety in personal water recreation. Also volunteers working as assistant lifeguards at public pools and campground employees are also required to have completed this training. Pre-requisites for shallow water lifeguard certification training is the least demanding, you will need (the details of different potions of screening test will be discussed further in a section below):

  1. At least 15 years old by the last day of class
  2. Pass a screening test (note: the detailed requirements may vary among certification bodies)
    • Have the ability to swim 50 yards
    • Can walk 10 yards with a weight of 20 pounds attached to the body
    • Be able to tread water for 2 minutes using legs only, must either hold hands out of water or place them under arm pits
    • Pass the “Brick Test

Screening Tests

Swimming Test

To pass the swimming test, lifeguard candidates have to swim continuously and demonstrate rhythmic breathing control. The distance varies from 550 yards to 50 yards depending on the type of lifeguarding training. Different swimming strokes like breaststroke, crawl stroke, etc. or a combination of them may be specified by the training organization. The swimming test is not timed. Applicants are considered to pass the swimming test as long as they complete the required distance non-stop.

Tread Water Test

Treading water using legs only are often required. Lifeguard candidates must place their hands under their armpits or lift the arms above water to avoid interfering with the treading. The duration of treading may last from two minutes to five minutes depending on the type of lifeguarding training.

Brick Test

This test is timed at a maximum of 1 minute 40 seconds. Lifeguard candidates are required to first swim 20 yards with faces in or out of the water without swim goggles. Then they need to surface dive with either feet-first or head-first to a depth of 7 to 10 feet and retrieve a 10-pound object. When reaching the water surface, they must then swim 20 yards more on the back to the starting point. During this portion of swimming, the candidate must hold the 10-pound object while keeping the face above water and exit from the water without the assistance of a ladder or steps.

Length of Lifeguard Certification Training

Basic lifeguard certification training programs typically require 27 to 30 classroom hours which may last from 3 days (in case of a lifeguard camp by Ellis and Associates) and up to 6 weeks of periodic classes. Shallow water lifeguard training lasts from 16 to 24 hours. Training courses are often structured as a mixture of in-water training and classroom lecture, discussion and written work. Some training courses may offer a blended mode with part of the course (usually the theory part). If you are a good self-learning, choosing the blended mode training will be the most cost-effective and efficient choice.

Lifeguard Training Course Contents

Training for lifeguards focuses on water rescue techniques. CPR and first aid are also taught in the course which are a part of lifeguard training courses that are approved by the United States Lifeguarding Standards Commission.

Water Rescue Training

Water rescue training provides the knowledge and skills in entering the water and rescuing a distressed swimmer. Proper training in water rescue can ensure the safety of the lifeguard as well as protect the swimmer from further injury. Skills like side-in entry (to enter the water when a victim is in shallow or crowded water or close to shore), front and rear rescue (for actual drowning victims) and use of a backboard (remove an injured swimmer) will be taught and practiced during the course.

Injury Stabilization

Basic lifeguard training includes instruction in caring for neck and back injuries. These injuries need to be supported before a victim can be moved, and techniques covered in the approved lifeguard course include using a backboard and head and chin support for victims who are found face-up and face-down. Special deep-water spinal stabilization techniques are included in deep-water and waterfront lifeguard training courses.

First Aid

Many lifeguarding courses will include first aid training. Students will learn how to carry out one-person and two-person CPR for adults and children and learn how to operate a cardiac defibrillator. Breathing bag-valve operation skills, application of splints and slings and control of bleeding are also taught.

CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure for manually maintaining blood and oxygen circulation through the body of a person who has stopped breathing with a view to preserving brain function. The recommendations for the administration of CPR varies from organizations to organizations. You should learn and remember the standards of the provider of your lifeguard training course.

AED (Automated external defibrillator)

Automated external defibrillators (AED) are portable electronic devices that can automatically diagnoses the life threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia in a patient, and determine the best course of defibrillation treatments. AED is effective in rescuing life threatening cardiac arrhythmias which lead to cardiac arrest. AED has become a standard provision in many swimming pools, water parks, public and commercial buildings. Skills and knowhow in operation of the AED will be taught.

Lifeguard Review Courses for Lifeguard Recertification

The lifeguard review courses are suitable for lifeguard certification holders to review their lifeguarding skills and core knowledge for recertification of their lifeguard certification. Participants are required to hold a current valid lifeguarding certificate. The course length is about half of that for the basic training courses at around 12 hours.

For lifeguards holding an expired certificate, they will need to attend the full course in order to obtain the certification.

Assessments of Lifeguard Certification Training

Lifeguard students must pass both a written exam and an in-water skills scenario to prove they have attained the necessary skills and knowledge to professional perform as a lifeguard. For courses including first aid training, written tests and practical tests are also required. For details, please refer to the Lifeguard Certification page.

Where to Train as a Lifeguard

The following is a list of lifeguard training providers that provide qualified and generally recognized certifications: