A lifeguard is present where people are swimming in order to be of assistance during an emergency and make sure that people swim and enjoy themselves in a safe and sensible fashion.
Lifeguards are essential in all situations where large numbers of the public go to swim, be it in a swimming pool or at a popular beach. Water can be deadly and lifeguards are lifesavers who can rescue and resuscitate people that otherwise would have drowned. Both men and women populate the profession in equal measure although in the conditions of a particularly dangerous beach there may be more male lifeguards than female, owing to the strength required to rescue a full grown man from strong currents. The work comes with its own set of dangers, as people when drowning quite often panic and in this state they present a mortal danger to whoever is trying to rescue them. In the beach situation there can be the added dangers of poisonous or predatory sea life, strong currents and underwater obstacles such as rocks and sharp coral reefs.
In a beach situation lifeguards use surfboards, body boards, inflatable dinghies and even jet skis and quad bikes to reach those in danger as quickly as possible. In a pool side situation, little flotation assistance is required other than an inflatable stretcher for transporting people who have suffered spinal injuries in the water.
Pool lifeguards earn between £11,000 and £20,000 per annum, or work on an hourly rate of £5 – £10 per hour, depending on the place they are working. It is common for lifeguards to increase their income by taking additional qualifications as swimming coach, personal trainer, fitness coach etc.
Pool side and beach lifeguards have different responsibilities:
Pool side lifeguards:
- Ensuring that swimmers behave in a safe fashion; this means enforcing rules relating to pool side conduct.
- Removing a distressed swimmer from the water and resuscitating them if necessary at pool side.
- Testing and regulating water temperature, PH levels, chlorine and hygiene.
- Administering basic first aid for cuts and bruises.
- Identifying and demarcating danger spots as no-swim areas.
- Rescuing swimmers in danger and removing them from the area.
- Rescuing drowning swimmers, and resuscitating them when back on dry land (or in the water in special cases).
- Providing constant vigilant watch over large areas of the beach.
- Providing advice on where to swim, surf or engage in other water sports.
- Administering basic first aid for cuts, bruises or stings.
To qualify as a lifeguard you must be physically fit and a strong, competent swimmer; you must be over 16 years of age and over 18 for beach lifeguards. Additionally lifeguards must have one of the following qualifications (lifeguarding qualifications are valid for 2 years only, at which point they must be re-assessed).
- National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ); this is awarded by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS).
- National Rescue Standard (NarRS) up to STA Level 2 – Pool Lifeguard; this is awarded by the Swimming Teachers Association (STA).
- National Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NBLQ); this is awarded by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS).
- National Rescue Standard (NarRS) qualification up to STA Level 2 Certificate – Beach Lifeguard; this is awarded by the Swimming Teachers Association (STA).
To qualify as a beach lifeguard you can attend a private course or join a local lifeguard club as a volunteer. Once qualified you can work with the RNLI. However, the RNLI has a further set of more stringent qualifying conditions and you must be able to complete the following under live test conditions.
In a pool
- 400 metre pool swim in 7.5 mins.
- 200 metre swim in 3.5 mins.
- 25 metre pool swim under the water, then immediately after a 25 metre normal swim in 50 secs.
On the beach
- 200 metre run in 40 secs.
In addition to the fitness, qualifications and swimming abilities required to be a lifeguard, the following would also be useful:
- Ability to inspire confidence and calm in the face of a crisis.
- Ability to enforce swimming pool rules in a considerate but firm manner.
- Good eyesight.
- Excellent powers of concentration; lifeguards must remain alert.
- Ability to react quickly and efficiently in a life threatening situation.
Beach lifeguards usually only work in daylight hours. Pool lifeguards meanwhile usually work on a shift basis; pool opening times are normally from around 7 in the morning to 10 at night, 7 days a week including public holidays except for Christmas and New Year. On a day to day basis (excluding a rare emergency situation) the job is not physically demanding but because of the level of vigilance required it can be quite mentally demanding.
Experience as a Pool or Leisure Centre Assistant can be useful to become a lifeguard. Any experience dealing directly with the public in a face to face role, such as retail, or sports coaching may also be beneficial. However, no experience is officially required beyond the legal qualifications and fitness minimums laid out in the qualifications section.
- Leisure centres are by far the biggest employers of lifeguards; these may be run by local councils or by private enterprise.
- Private gyms, schools and hotels also employ lifeguards.
- Beach lifeguards are often volunteers working for the RNLI.
The Swimming Teachers Association (STA) also runs courses for Pool Side Attendants and Pool Side Helpers. Once employed in either of these posts you can take another course to qualify as a lifeguard while working. Working within a leisure centre there may be opportunities to take management courses and so progress to being a supervisor or leisure centre manager.
In terms of career progression both the NaRS and NPLQ count towards a level 2 NVQ in Sport and Recreation. This can lead onto to other sports qualifications such as Personal Instructor, Fitness Coach and many others.
Also known as…
- Pool Assistant
- Swimming Coach
What’s it really like?
Marc Redmond, 29 years old, is a lifeguard at a private members club in Hampstead, London.
Mark can you tell us about your job as a lifeguard?
I am a lifeguard and fitness coach but I do everything from being on the desk to football coaching and soon I hope to move into personal training.
How long have you been in this particular industry?
I’ve only been working in leisure centres for the last 3 years.
What did you do before this job?
Before working in this job in London, I worked in a leisure centre in Ireland doing personal training. Before that I was out in Bangkok and Thailand working on movies as a stuntman and actually that’s where I first started working as a Personal Trainer.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
On any particular day I’m assigned to one area in the leisure centre, either the pool, or the gym, or the main sports hall, or sometimes reception. So what I do can be very different and that’s the case for anybody who works in a gym, even if they are managers.
What do you like about the job?
I like the social aspect, dealing with people the whole time – people who are doing sports or people that want to get into sports. I suppose I like it because I know what I’m talking about; it wouldn’t be the same if I was doing anything else. I like the atmosphere too; the gym I work in is very relaxed, it’s in a nice area, it’s a bit like a spa with treatment rooms upstairs doing massage and other things.
What do you dislike about the job?
It can be boring at times especially when you are life guarding and the gym can be quite dull when there not many people in. Sometimes there’s very little to do but apart from that there’s nothing I dislike. Even though it’s boring, usually people that work there are quite young so that can be fun.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Get qualified in as many areas as you can, not just life guarding or just gym. Generally, employers will go for people who can work in a variety of areas. Have other gym qualifications down with your life guarding, eg being able to teach some fitness classes etc.
What job do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?
I think really what I’d like to do is eventually run my own kind of gym. A martial arts centre would be my ultimate goal. After years of working in a gym you work out the ins and outs of running it and you realise that it isn’t that hard. The real problem is coming up with the money to set it all up.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
Just make sure you enjoy doing sports and being in a leisure centre; if you enjoy that kind of atmosphere then you’ll do well.
Do you mind us publishing your salary?
I get paid £6 – £8 an hour for life guarding and a bit more for when I’m in the gym. For classes I get around £30 per hour.