A lifeguard is an emergency service worker who is responsible for overseeing the safety of the users of a recreational water feature, such as a swimming pool, a water park, or a beach. Lifeguards are qualified strong swimmers, trained and certified in water rescue, first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and sometimes in the use of automated external defibrillators, oxygen administration and specialized equipment for airway management or aquatic rescue.
On shore, an ocean lifeguard can typically be seen watching the water from an elevated chair or tower, or patrolling the water's edge on foot or with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Some of the better equipped lifeguard services operate inflatable or rigid hulled patrol boats that can provide added support in the event of a rip current situation or other emergency. Additionally, some also have rowboats, and specially marked personal watercraft equipped with a rescue 'Sled' (a reinforced oversize bodyboard to bring victims onto) available to respond from the beach.
An individual lifeguard tower will typically be staffed with one or two lifeguards responsible for a specific length of beach. Equipment used will vary depending on the area. This will normally include communications equipment and a well stocked first aid kit. Additional equipment may include a large long spine board, an oxygen resuscitator, an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) or simple scuba diving equipment. A lifeguard vehicle or patrol boat will be equipped with two way radios and may also carry cardiac care medical equipment, an oxygen tank, and more advanced scuba gear.
In some communities, the lifeguard service also carries out mountain rescues, or may function as the primary EMS provider.
A key part of any lifeguard's mission is the prevention of in-water (as well as on-land) incidents. Therefore, one of the most useful measures of the effectiveness of a lifeguard force is not the number or rapidity of rescues, or the skill with which they are executed, but the absence or reduction of drownings, accidents, and other medical emergencies. While the ability to save lives is of paramount importance to lifeguards, the ability to prevent life-threatening situations is nearly as important.
Many young people in high school and college see lifeguarding as an enjoyable and rewarding part-time or summer job. Lifeguarding requires that one be constantly alert for any dangers to the patrons of the area under supervision. Like many other jobs, lifeguarding requires quick decision-making and communications skills. The primary duty of a waterpark, waterfront, or pool lifeguard is the safety of the patrons or swimmers. This primary duty includes water surveillance and rule enforcement, as well as rescues and first aid when required. Secondary duties include filling out incident report forms after accidents or injuries, ensuring safe and clean facilities are maintained, answering questions that patrons might have (rule concerns or directions), and in-service training to maintain lifeguarding skills.
While performing patron surveillance (usually from an elevated stand or a water-level standing or sitting position) lifeguards watch for and recognize struggling or drowning swimmers, and swimmers with sudden medical conditions such as a stroke, heart attack, asthma, diabetes, or seizures. Proper patron surveillance is key in preventing injury or death by drowning. Lifeguards should look for swimmers in these categories and conditions:
- Swimmers who are inactive in the water, submerged or otherwise (Passive drowning victim). When a lifeguard sees this kind of swimmer he performs an emergency rescue.
- Swimmers who are taking in water while attempting to stay at the surface (Active drowning victim). Lifeguards look for swimmers in this condition by looking for arms flailing vertically, with the body vertical and no supporting kick. This behaviour is known as the instinctive drowning response. Lifeguards perform an emergency rescue to assist this kind of swimmer.
- Swimmers who have become tired and are having trouble swimming (Distressed swimmer) and may or may not be calling out for help. Lifeguards usually swim out and help these swimmers to the side. They may or may not require additional assistance.
- Normal swimmers (Healthy swimmers).
Problems may occur at any time, so a lifeguard must be in good physical and mental condition in order to pull someone from the water and possibly perform rescue breathing, CPR, or first aid.
Lifeguards also are trained in first aid. Before administering first aid, lifeguards preform an initial assessment, and then a secondary assessment with the acronym SAMPLE.
- S stands for signs and symptoms. Lifeguards will try to find out what happened and where the patron feels any pain, discomfort, numbness, or loss of sensation.
- A stands for allergies. This is to find out what allergies the patron might have.
- M stands for medications, such as what medical conditions they have or what medications they have taken in the past 24 hours.
- P stands for pertinent past medical history. The lifeguard will try to figure out if the patron has experienced any recent falls, accidents or blows to the head, or if they have been in any medical, surgical, or trauma incidents.
- L is for last oral intake; what and when the patron ate or drank.
- E is for events leading up to the incident. What the patron was doing before the incident and what they were doing when the incident occurred.
Lifeguarding is not the same as instructing swim lessons, although (at pools) most lifeguards are instructors and vice versa.
Lifeguards in different situations have to maintain, carry and be proficient in the use of several pieces of equipment. These pieces of equipment vary in type or style from establishment to establishment but are generally used in most establishments where lifeguards are employed.
Equipment carried by most lifeguards
The equipment carried by a lifeguard will be dictated by the conditions the lifeguard may encounter. Lifeguards at a pool may only have the equipment below, while an ocean lifeguard would also have swim fins, a paddle board, or even a personal water craft available to them.
Equipment stored at the establishment used by lifeguards
Lifeguards in different nations
lifeguards are distinguished from Surf Life Savers
. Lifeguards are paid employees who patrol beaches, lakes and pools/aquatic venues. Beach lifeguards are usually employed by local government authorities and patrol the beach throughout the year. Surf Lifesavers are a large voluntary organization that patrol beaches on weekends and public holidays during the warmer months (usually from mid-September to late April) and also perform public training of kids, the nippers
, as well as competitions, such as surf carnivals
or winter swimming
Belgium has a small coastline, with a length of 68 km. Despite its small size, the coast is highly urbanised over practically its entire length and is visited by many thousands of tourists each year so a good lifeguard service has been built up over the years. Because the North Sea only borders Flanders, more particularly the province of West Flanders, the training of the lifeguards is organised by the province. Beach lifeguards in Belgium are trained by the WOBRA (Dutch abbreviation for West Flemish training centre for firemen, lifeguards and ambulance crew). Beach lifeguards in Belgium are mostly students who are employed for a month during the summer holidays (July and August). Some municipalities also employ lifeguards in June and September. In order to obtain uniformity, all municipalities from the Belgian coast are joined in the IKWV (Dutch abbreviation for intercommunal coast lifeguardservice of West Flanders). This is the coordinating organ for all the municipalities regarding the organisation of the lifeguardservice.
In Canada, all lifeguards and assistant lifeguards are certified by the Lifesaving Society
of Canada. The lifeguarding certification offered by the LSS is the National Lifeguard Service
(NLS) program, which was officially launched in 1964. Very seldomly are American Red Cross
Lifeguarding Courses offered in major aquatics facilities, instead favouring the more popular NLS program.
In Germany there exist two major organizations that train people in lifesaving. The bigger one is the DLRG, the largest aquatics life saving organization in the world, and the smaller one, Wasserwacht is part of the German Red Cross.
In the Republic of Ireland, the statutory body established to promote water safety is "Irish Water Safety" who train and award Lifeguards with the National Pool Lifeguard Award, the National Beach Lifeguard Award and the Inland Open Water Lifeguard Award. Details of Irish Water Safety classes in all levels of swimming and lifesaving skills can be found on [www.iws.ie their website].
In Italy Lifeguard are certified by the Italian Swimming Federation
and the National Life Saving Society
(Società Nazionale di Salvamento). The Italian Swimming Federation
's diploma is recognized abroad by the country affiliated to ILS. Differences exist between pool, lakes and sea diplomas. Also Italian Red Cross
has a special branch called OPSA (Operatori Polivalenti Salvataggio in Acqua or Polivalent Water Rescue Operators) that has some lifeguards duties in many parts of Italy.
In New Zealand
the term lifeguard generally refers to pool lifeguards but can be used interchangeably with lifesaver. These are qualified paid professionals employed by the pool management to watch over pool users. Surf Life Saving New Zealand
(SLSNZ) is responsible for training and maintaining Surf Lifesaving in New Zealand. Surf Lifesavers patrol various beaches in New Zealand. Lifesavers are able to sit their Bronze Medallion
which qualifies them as a volunteer Surf Lifeguards. Volunteers patrol New Zealand's beaches on weekends over the summer months from Labour Day to around Easter. Paid Lifeguards patrol beaches during the week over the busiest summer months. They also come under the control of SLSNZ.
there are many organizations that teach and train people in lifesaving. The INTERNATIONAL LIFEGUARD SOCIETY and Federación Española de Salvamento are a couple of the prominent organizations.
In the United Kingdom
, there are two bodies that train Lifeguards. The Royal Life Saving Society UK
(RLSS UK) and the Swimming Teachers Association
(STA); who train the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) and the National Aquatic Rescue Standard (NaRS) (this qualification is becoming less important and fewer employers accept it as an appropriate qualification) respectively. The RLSS trains the vast majority of pool Lifeguards in the UK. The course studied lasts a minimum of 38 hours, and is made up of two units - both of which must be completed. The qualification is valid for two years from the date of assessment. A minimum of 20 hours training must be logged in those two years for the individual to be eligible to submit for a renewal examination. The employer of the lifeguard must also provide a minimum of 1 hour of training per month to comply with HSE guidelines. The NPLQ can be trained with the addition of a module in the use of a long spine board
, a specialist piece of rescue equipment designed for immobilizing a casualty suspected of suffering a Spinal Cord
In Northern Ireland the NPLQ is the qualification of choice of the leisure industry.
The Royal Lifesaving Society UK
offers training and assessment for the National Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NBLQ). There are currently approximately 700 newly qualified lifeguards each year (in addition to those who renew their qualification). This qualification is currently on version 3.1 and is valid for two years from the date of the assessment. There are a variety of "specialist modules" that can be added to the basic qualification, these include; VHF
Radio Operator; Personal Water Craft PWC
, Rescue Surf Skills, Paddlecraft Rescue, Rescue Boat (Crew), Rescue Boat (Helm), AED
There is currently a drive by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to provide well-funded beach lifeguards, which currently focusses on the South Coast, with plans to roll out nationally in the next few years.
The British Canoe Union
has canoe life guard units in the UK managed by the BCU Lifeguards
These are special units that operate in Kayaks
in areas where motor boats would have problems. Pictures of the London Triathlon
lifeguard cover can be found on the Globe360
In the United States
there are seven nationally recognized organizations that certify lifeguards. The American Red Cross
(ARC) and its Lifeguard Training Program
, the YMCA
, Starfish Aquatics Institute (StarGuard), Jeff Ellis & Associates
, the Boy Scouts of America
, and National Aquatic Safety Company (NASCO)
Many people go to these organizations to get their first aid and CPR certification that do not get the lifeguard certification. The standard in open water surf training is the United States Lifesaving Association
Continuous training is necessary to maintain lifeguarding skills and knowledge. Formal competitions have developed as a way to encourage training, and also as a social activity. In Australia, the annual Surf Lifesaving competition at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast is the largest athletic event in the world after the Olympic Games
with tens of thousands of lifeguards competing.
Lifeguard competitions include both physical events and technical (medical) events. Technical events are challenging accident simulations in which guards are evaluated on their adherence to treatment standards. These events are a subject of controversy amongst some lifeguards due to their subjectivity. Purely physical competitions have recently become more popular, often including various combinations of running, swimming, paddleboarding, and surf skiing. Most lifeguard competitions include an Ironman
event that combines three different physical activities.
Lifeguards in popular culture
In popular culture, such as film or television, lifeguards are afforded a high status, often that of a "hero." A primary example is the show Baywatch, which was at one time the most viewed show in the world (although not in the United States, where it first aired). The 1975 dramatic film Lifeguard, starring Sam Elliott, takes a serious look at the life of one professional.
Specific cultural perceptions of lifeguards include:
- Association with youth, linked to the tendency of guards to be younger. Older guards are often typecast as beach bums.
- Association with surf culture.
- Rite-of-passage jobs, linked again to the tendency of teenagers working part-time as guards, but moving onto different professions.
Perhaps one of the most widespread connotations raised by lifeguards is sexual in nature (several polls revealed that "lifesaver" was considered one of the "sexiest" professions). This is often linked to the sexual overtones of resuscitation as well as the physical fitness required to work as a lifeguard.