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Lifeguard Duties and Responsibilities

Based on job postings that we analyzed, lifeguards in almost any setting share several core responsibilities:

Oversee Swimmer Safety The primary duty of a lifeguard is to maintain swimmer safety. Lifeguards monitor water conditions and guest behavior, enforcing safety rules and paying close attention to swimmer activities and behavior. Lifeguards may issue warnings when a visitor is creating an unsafe environment and may determine when they need to ask a guest to leave. Lifeguards may also assist new swimmers to help them safely enjoy the water.

Conduct Rescue Operations Lifeguards prevent death and injury by rescuing swimmers from the water. If a lifeguard notices a swimmer struggling or beneath the water for too long, they take necessary steps to safely remove the swimmer from the water. In some cases, a lifeguard may have to begin CPR procedures, working with other lifeguards to contact emergency services personnel and provide assistance to the swimmer.

Organize Pool Activities Some lifeguards support visitors by organizing activities in and around the pool or beach, including pool parties, lessons, and swim teams. Lifeguards work closely with supervisors and other lifeguards to schedule and oversee these activities, which may occur outside of regular swimming hours, and ensure that participants have a safe and positive experience while visiting the pool, beach, or park.

Monitor Weather and Conditions Lifeguards maintain overall safety by monitoring weather and water conditions for signs of danger. A lifeguard working at a beach, for example, may monitor tidal activity and waves to determine if the water is safe enough for swimmers. A pool lifeguard may check the weather to see if thunderstorms or other weather events could create an unsafe swimming environment. In both cases, lifeguards take steps to close the swimming area if they determine that conditions are hazardous to swimmers.

Open and Close Pools and Beaches Many lifeguards are responsible for opening and closing swimming areas. For lifeguards who work in indoor and outdoor pools, this can include removing the pool cover, attaching guides and guards, and checking water condition before the pool opens to swimmers. Lifeguards working at public beaches or water parks may remove barriers at the beginning of the day to allow for visitor access and replace them at the end of the day.

Contribute to Maintenance and Upkeep Lifeguards may also contribute to maintenance and upkeep activities in and around the pool or other swimming areas so that visitors can enjoy a safe and clean environment. This can include cleaning up walkways around a pool, adding chemicals according to safety guidelines, and regularly cleaning pool water and surfaces. Beach lifeguards may contribute to cleaning and maintaining public areas like showers and garbage receptacles.


Lifeguard Skills and Qualifications

Lifeguards play a key role in creating safe environments for swimmers. Lifeguards need to be certified and possess the following skills:

  • Swimming – lifeguards must be strong swimmers who can maneuver and navigate in the water even while carrying another person
  • Observation skills – the ability to observe and monitor swimmers and safety conditions is vital in this role, so lifeguards should possess excellent observation skills
  • Attention to detail – in many cases, a lifeguard’s shift can be relatively uneventful, but a high level of attention to detail and concentration is required throughout the shift to ensure swimmer safety
  • Emergency response skills – if a swimmer is in danger, lifeguards need to calmly assess the situation and make critical decisions to provide assistance, so strong judgment and response skills are necessary
  • Communication skills – lifeguards need to effectively communicate with visitors and other lifeguards, so strong verbal communication skills are another requirement

Lifeguard Education and Training

Lifeguards do not need any formal education, and many high school students successfully work as lifeguards throughout the summer. They do need certification, though, which is usually achieved by completing a course through the American Red Cross. Additionally, lifeguards need CPR certification to ensure that they can assist swimmers in case of an emergency. There are usually many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as lifeguards learn policies and procedures for their pool, park, or beach.


Lifeguard Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups lifeguards with other recreation workers, who earn a median hourly wage of $11.80. The BLS also notes that many recreation worker positions are part time or seasonal, so actual earnings may vary based on the length of the season and number of shifts a lifeguard works. The BLS expects recreation worker employment to grow 9 percent by 2026 and notes that the seasonal and temporary nature of workers in this field contributes to frequent job openings.


Helpful Resources

We searched the web and found a number of resources if you’re interested in working as a lifeguard:

Red Cross Lifeguard Certification – lifeguard certification is a vital step in finding a career in this field, and the Red Cross offers classes throughout the year in a variety of settings

American Red Cross Lifeguarding: Manual – this book covers information from the American Red Cross lifeguard certification program, providing advice and guidance for new lifeguards

“Lifeguarding Tips” – this post on LifeguardMaster.com provides advice on effectively protecting swimmers and creating safe swimming environments

International Lifeguard Training Program – read this book for an in-depth exploration of lifeguard training and tips for being more effective in this role