So, You Want to Be a Lifeguard? Certification and Testing

lifeguard equipment, watermen gear, original watermen,  lifeguard gear, lifeguard trainingCalifornia’s beautiful State Parks encompass over 900 miles of ocean coastlines plus thousands of miles of reservoir, lake and river shorelines. Thousands of lifeguards protect these water sources, to ensure the safety of the 50 million people, that travel to these parks each year. California’s State Parks employ around 600 seasonal lifeguards each summer. And each of these lifeguards have completed lifeguard training, certification and testing programs. Note: These programs are not swim classes, they can be seriously physically and mentally challenging.

 Understanding What Type of Lifeguard, You Want to Be

Lifeguard training is job specific, that said there are the following:

  • Pool Lifeguards – are responsible for public and private pools
  • Aquatic Attraction Lifeguards – watch over waterparks or pools that offer attractions, and a have a maximum water depth of 5 feet or less.
  • Waterfront Lifeguards – prevent and respond to emergencies in non-surf, open-water areas found at public parks, resorts, summer camps, campgrounds etc. life lakes, bays or rivers.
  • Beach Lifeguards – guard in all areas of open water with surf.


 Typically, agencies allow you to be 15 years of age, on or before the final day of the lifeguard training course, but most expect you to be 16. As well as possess a valid driver’s license, with a good driving record, at the time of appointment. Candidates must have the ability to read and write English and have no felony convictions.

The biggest and most important qualification is you must have the physical strength and endurance necessary to rescue a struggling victim in the water.

As well all candidates must be able to detect a struggling victim in the water by having 20/20 corrected vision, and 20/40 uncorrected vision, along with passing a hearing test.

Lifeguard Certification

Obtaining a lifeguard position is not an easy task. Everyone must attend lifeguard courses that teach you the skills needed to prevent, recognize, and respond to aquatic emergencies. Participants will be trained and certified in CPR for the Professional Rescuer (CPRO), and First Aid care for injuries and sudden illness until EMS (emergency services) take over.

You will also practice using life-saving flotation devices like rescue tubes to help struggling swimmers. You will be properly trained in using back boards to help move people who may have injured their spines, and CPR barrier devices called face shields. Face shields are placed over the victim’s mouth during CPR, to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases via bodily fluids. Pool guards will also be taught how to communicate with a whistle while on duty.

 Lifeguard Certification Cost

No matter the type of lifeguarding you choose, you must pass job specific certification classes. The American Red Cross, National Aquatic Safety, and the YMCA provide training courses for non-surf guards. Lifeguard training can cost anywhere from $125-$300 and can last from 21 hours-40 hours. Note: state, county and city lifeguard agencies provide their own training programs.

Lastly, everyone will be administered a qualification appraisal interview.

 Lifeguard Testing

You will need to pass a job specific written test, as well as a timed swim test. These tests and trainings are to ensure that you are able to provide beach and pool safety, enforce city ordinance laws, and learn how and when to prepare and file reports. Note: Lifeguard testing and tryouts differ between states and agencies, and some begin their testing as early as February, so they can spend their Spring Break doing more intense certification training.

 Lifeguard Recertification

 It is best not let your lifeguard certification expire, or you will have to repeat the entire process again. Lifeguard retesting is designed to inform you of the latest and most up to date lifeguarding techniques, to keep the people around you safe. Most lifeguard certifications only last one to five years.

If lifeguarding is still interesting to you, then start preparing now. Get in the water; work on your swim strokes and endurance.  Next up in this series, “what to expect at lifeguard tryouts”.

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