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A lifeguard jumping into action.
Red and yellow flag indicating a bathing area patrolled by lifeguards
A lifeguard is a person responsible for overseeing the safety of the users of a body of water and its environs, such as a swimming pool, a water park, or a beach. This differentiates them from life savers who partake in similar activities as a sport or practical life skill. Lifeguards are qualified strong swimmers, trained and certified in water rescue, using a variety of aids and equipment depending on requirements of their particular venue, and first aid. In some areas, lifeguards may form part of the provided emergency services response to incidents and in some communities, the lifeguard service also carries out mountain rescues, or may function as the primary EMS provider.


A lifeguard has a given responsibility for the safety of people (and in some cases property) in an area of water, and usually a defined area immediately surrounding or adjacent to it, such as a beach next to an ocean. Their priority is to ensure no harm comes to users of the area for which they are responsible. Lifeguards often take on this responsibility as an employment, although lifeguards can also be volunteers.

The conditions that allow drowning to occur can be summarised by the 'drowning chain', in which each link can lead directly to an incident, or can lead on to the next link, and is shown below. It consists of people having a lack of education (e.g. about water safety or local conditions), a lack of safety advice (e.g. about rip currents at a beach) a lack of protection (e.g. no floatation device for a weak swimmer), lack of safety supervision (e.g. from a family member or lifeguard) or an inability to cope (e.g. strong surf with a weak swimmer).

The drowning chain provides a clear basis for preventing drowning which includes:
  • education and information
  • provision of warnings
  • denial of access
  • supervision
  • training in survival skills

The lifeguard is able to provide all these elements to help prevent drownings (or other incidents) in their area of responsibility, and for this reason this should be the primary focus of a lifeguard's activities, as it is better to stop an incident occurring than trying to react once it has occurred. This means that the effectiveness of a lifeguard unit can be measured 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.

Of course, lifeguards must be trained, capable and ready to perform emergency rescues should they become necessary, which they may do, as it is impossible to prevent all accidents occurring without going to unacceptable expense. This rescuing is the key focus of popular culture reference such as Baywatch, which was at one time the most viewed show in the world.


An enclosed life guard tower at Ala Moana Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii.
A lifeguard's key duties on a beach (usually as part of a team, but in some places, lifeguards may occasionally be required to work on their own) are to:
  • Maintain concentrated observation of the duty area and its users in order to anticipate problems (this will enable the lifeguard to intervene with one of the drowning prevention measures) and to identify an emergency quickly.
  • Supervise the use of other equipment when allocated to that duty (such as water slides)
  • Carry out rescues and initate other emergency action as necessary
  • Give immediate first aid in the event of injury to a bather or other incident
  • Communicate with bathers and other users to help fulfil the above tasks

Lifeguards may have other duties such as rule enforcement, cleaning (when not directly supervising the area) or acting as a general information point.

Identifying types of swimmer

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 observation is the key duty of a lifeguard and they look for swimmers in various categories and conditions:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Normal swimmers (Healthy swimmers).


Lifeguards can be found patrolling many different types of water, and each type has its own unique features, duties and challenges. Locations where lifeguards can be found include:
  1. Ocean beach - Lifeguards are commonly associated with beaches on the seashore, and this is often considered the most challenging environment to lifeguard due to the influence of external factors such as weather, currents, tides and waves
  2. Inland body of water - Lifeguards can also look after open water areas such as lakes, or even rivers, where swimmers may congregate
  3. Swimming pool - Pools, either indoor or outdoor, are often patrolled by lifeguards, although many are not covered by qualified personnel, if at all
    • Water park - Whilst water parks are a type of swimming pool, they can be considered a unique type of facility as they may involve additional features such as water slides or wave generators
    • Ocean lagoon or tidal pool - These enclosed areas use seawater, but like a pool have a limited and contained area, but have the potential for additional hazards above and beyond an artificial pool
  4. Open ocean - In some cases, people may swim in the open ocean from a boat (such as a cruise ship) and lifeguards may be employed for safety in this instance


Belgian lifeguards with portable high chair to afford optimum viewing position of bathing area
Lifeguards have a primary duty to supervise the area which they are responsible for, and to achieve this the lifeguard needs to obtain an optimum position for observing the public. This is often best achieved from an elevated position, which can be a chair, platform or even the roof of a vehicle. This allows them maximum visibility over their supervised area and may facilitate communication between them and their team.

Some lifeguard teams use portable platforms or chairs which can be moved to the most appropriate position. This can help take account of changes such as a specific activity taking place, prevailing wind direction or simply enable lifeguards to move closer to the water if the tide goes out on a beach.

The chair or tower can also act as storage for the lifeguard, holding their important rescue or communication equipment close to hand. It can also act as a recognisable point for members of the public to find lifeguard assistance. For this reason, it is often marked with a flag or flags to enable location by the public, and these flags may also give information to the bathers about the conditions for swimming.

Other options, depending on the location, can include patrolling the edge of the water on foot, which allows closer interaction with the public, and the opportunity to provide face to face reassurance and advice, or even supervising from within or on the water, which is most applicable in open water (such as the sea or even a large water park) where lifeguards can use boats or other personal watercraft to be within the water, which extends their range and may allow quicker response to emergencies.


Inflatable Rescue Boat
Burnside buoy
Peterson tube
Common lifeguard flags

Equipment used by lifeguards will vary depending on the location and specific conditions encountered, however certain equipment is relatively universal such as a whistle for attracting the attention of the public or other members of the team, a first aid kit and rescue aids.

Rescue aids

There is a hierarchy of rescue techniques to be used by lifeguards, in order, which minimises danger to the lifeguard and maximises the effectiveness of a rescue, and this dictates the types of rescue aids that a lifeguard should have available. Not all techniques or equipment will be available to all lifeguards, but all lifeguards should have some equipment to aid rescues. If talking to the victim establishes a problem, and they are unable to help themselves under instruction, the hierarchy runs as follows:
  • Reach - The first choice for any lifeguard should be to reach the victim from a position of safety, such as the side of a pool or the beach, using an aid such as a pole or rope. This allows them to stay safe throughout the rescue whilst keeping constant contact with the victim.
  • Throw - If it is not possible to reach a victim and maintain contact, then the next best method is to throw a floatation aid to them, such as a lifebuoy (also known as a perry buoy) and encourage them to use it to swim to safety. This is most appropriate in a swimming pool and has only limited application outdoors, such as throwing a ring from a pier.
  • Wade - If neither of those techniques is possible, then a lifeguard should consider wading to a victim, staying standing upright in the water. This will only work in shallow water, so has limited application, but keeps the lifeguard more stable and safer.
  • Row - Using a personal watercraft to reach the victim, which could include paddle craft such as a surf ski, kayak or row boat, a hand paddled craft such as a long surfboard or in modern times a jet ski or a inflatable boat
  • Swim with an aid - Only if none of these options are available should a lifeguard consider swimming to rescue a victim, as it creates additional danger for both lifeguard and victim. Aids suitable for this include the well known torpedo tube, which is a hard plastic float towed on a rope attached to the lifeguard, or the soft equivalent, the rescue or 'Peterson' tube, which is flexible and is generally preferred nowadays as it can be clipped around an unconscious or uncooperative victim. Other aids can include a rescue reel which is a rope attaching the lifeguard to a reel on the shore from where he can be pulled back by colleagues either with the victim or if the lifeguard gets in to difficulty.
  • Swim without an aid - Only as an absolute last resort should a lifeguard attempt a rescue with no equipment

In addition to these basic lifeguarding techniques, some units are trained in additional water rescue techniques such as scuba diving or in rescue techniques unrelated to water rescue such as abseiling for cliff rescue and will carry appropriate equipment for these.

First aid

Lifeguards need to be proficient in first aid, and should always have a well stocked first aid kit available to them. In addition, they may have advanced first items such as medical oxygen, a resuscitator, a defibrillator or AED or a spinal immobilisation board.


Effective communications are vital for lifeguards and they may choose to use two-way radios, megaphones or even signal flares.

A more traditional method of communication with the public is through the use of coloured flags, which can be raised over permanent or temporary flag poles to inform members of the public of different information.


For duty areas over a wide area, such as beaches and lakes, lifeguards may require transport over distance and they may use land transport including pick-up trucks, quad bikes or other off-road vehicle.

They may also use larger water craft such as large rigid or inflatable boats or even hovercraft.

Lifeguards in different nations


In Australia 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 events.


A Belgian lifeguard in action
Belgiummarker 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 Seamarker only borders Flanders, more particularly the province of West Flandersmarker, 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 Denmarkmarker the lifeguard-services be divided into two major groups. The coastal lifeguards, which are established on a voluntarily basis by the beach administrators (in most cases the municipality). There are three main serviceproviders for this, two heavily sponsored: and TrygFonden Kystlivredning, while Den Nordsjællandske Kystlivredningstjeneste are sponsored by the councils at the Zealand Northshore. All public pools (both commercial and government) are required to "provide a secure and safe environment" and thus lifeguards. Unlike the coastal lifeguards, these has to pass an government approved test as well as a yearly a physical examination and first aid test.


A member of the Wasserwacht observing a regatta
In Germanymarker exist two major organizations that train people in swimming, lifesaving and which maintain lifeguard services at public beaches, lakes etc. Both are mainly based on volunteer work. The DLRG is the largest aquatic lifeguard organization in the world with more than 500,000 members. The Wasserwacht (water watch) is a division 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 [ their website].

In addition, the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS IRELAND) provide training in lifesaving and offer courses in lifeguarding for both the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) and the National Beach Lifeguard Qualification(NBLQ. Details of all lifeguard courses and activities may be found on the website


In Italy Lifeguard are certified by the Italian Swimming Federation and the National Lifesaving 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.edhe fatosi ri me kem perpjet ne mes te oqeanit

New Zealand

In New Zealandmarker the term lifeguard generally refers to swimming 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 coastal 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.


In Spainmarker there are many organizations that teach and train people in lifesaving. The INTERNATIONAL LIFEGUARD SOCIETY and Federación Española de Salvamento y Socorrismo are a couple of the prominent organizations.


In Switzerlandmarker the lifesaving organization is the Schweizerische Lebensrettungs-Gesellschaft.


In Taiwanmarker there are two main lifesaving organizations providing lifeguard licenses and training, one is called National Water Life Saving Association Republic of China(N.W.L.S.A.R.O.C.) another is called The Red Cross Society of the Republic of China. N.W.L.S.A was first launched in 1970 and aided by Australians Surf Life Savers. The Red Cross Society was founded around 1949. N.W.L.S.A joined the International Life Saving Federation in 1994.

United Kingdom

Pool Lifeguards

In the United Kingdommarker, there are two bodies that train Lifeguards:The Swimming Teachers Association (STA) Tel 01922 645 097

The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK)The organisations qualifications are the National Aquatic Rescue Standard (NaRS) and the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) respectively.

Both qualifications are recognised professionally within the United Kingdom and enable the holder to work as a Professional Pool Lifeguard satisfying all HSE regulations.

A full Pool Lifeguard course lasts a minimum of 36 hours and ends with external examiners testing the individuals both on land and in the water and includes an examination paper. 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 should provide training every month in lifeguard skills and resuscitiation training to help it comply with HSE guidelines. Additional units can be added including the use of spinal boards, a specialist piece of rescue equipment designed for immobilizing a casualty suspected of suffering a Spinal Cord injury.

The Professional element of the award is not attained until you are working within a swimming pool complex and have covered Site Specific training sessions.

Beach lifeguards

The two alternative schemes for qualifying beach lifeguard in the UK are run by the Royal Life Saving Society UK, who offer the 'National Beach Lifeguard Qualification' (NBLQ) and Surf Life Saving Great Britain (in association with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution) who offer the 'National Rescue Standards Beach Lifeguard Qualification' (NaRS BL).

Both organisations also offer a range of "specialist modules" that can be added to the basic qualification, such as VHF Radio Operator; Rescue Water Craft RWC, Rescue Surf Skills, Rescue (paddle) Board, Rescue Boat (Crew), Rescue Boat (Driver), AED and CPR Oxygen Administration.

The RNLI is the largest operator of lifeguard units in the UK, patrolling over 140 operational beaches around the coast of England and Wales.

Canoe lifeguards

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 and Canoes in areas where motor boats would have problems. Pictures of the London Triathlon lifeguard cover can be found on the Globe360 website.

Open Water lifeguards

Inland water sites such as lakes and rivers - typically where there is a specific need, such as sports competitions or public events. There are many examples of organisations that provide such services on a national, international, voluntary and commercial basis.

United States

In the United Statesmarker 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), The City of Los Angeles [41542], 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.

Lifeguard competitions

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.


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.

See also



External links

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