For the British Army regiment see the Life Guards

A lifeguard in the most general sense of the word is an emergency service worker, who is a qualified strong swimmer, trained and certified in water rescue, first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); who is responsible for overseeing the safety of users of a recreational water feature, such as a swimming pool, a water park, or a private or public beach. Lifeguards are classified by the United States Department of Labor as medical professionals. Lifeguards often are required to obtain additional training in AED and supplying Oxygen.

Due to nature of their mission and responsibility, and that their command presence needs to be visible, lifeguards are often dressed in a high visibility uniform, usually including red boardshorts (or, for female lifeguards, a red one-piece bathing suit), and carry distinctive equipment, such as a brightly colored rescuer's buoy, which depending upon the preference of the agency's practices may be made of a rigid or soft plastic material.

In the cases of public pools, water parks, and beach clubs, the employer of a lifeguard force is the private sector entity operating that facility, but in the case of the public beach it would usually be a public sector agency called a lifeguard service, beach patrol, ocean safety department, or something similar.

Training for lifeguards at pools, waterparks, lakes and other inland bodies of water is different than the training of lifeguards for oceans.


Ocean Lifeguard

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On shore, an ocean lifeguard can typically be seen watching his water from an elevated chair or tower, or patrolling the water's edge on foot or with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. And some of the better equipped lifeguard services operate 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, outboard-powered Zodiacs, and specially marked personal watercraft equipped with Marzol rescue platforms (a reinforced oversize bodyboard) 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. In addition to rescuer's buoys, equipment typically placed at a lifeguard tower includes a private line or centrex telephone used to establish communication with a dispatcher, and a well stocked first aid kit. Additional equipment may include a large rescue surfboard, a bag rescuscitator and 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.

Lifeguard duties

A key part of the lifeguard mission being prevention, one of the more useful measures of the effectiveness of a lifeguard force is not the number or rapidity of rescues, but the absence or reduction of drownings, accidents, and other emergencies.

Many young people in high school and college see lifeguarding as an enjoyable and rewarding part-time or summer job. While not overly demanding, lifeguarding does require 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, 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 unusual activities on the part of swimmers to recognise struggling swimmers, drowning swimmers, and swimmers with sudden medical conditions such as stroke, heart attack, asthma, diabetes, or seizures. While performing patron surveillance, Lifeguards try to prevent drowning or other injury and death by looking for swimmers in these 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 perpendicular to the water, for the curious reason, that when swimmers begin to take in water, they stop kicking with their feet. 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). 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.

Lifeguarding is not the same as instructing swim lessons, although (at pools) most lifeguards are instructors and vice versa.

Lifeguards in different nations

Surf Life Savers are a voluntary organisation of lifeguards on public beaches in Australia.

In Canada, all lifeguards are certified by the Lifesaving Society of Canada ( (LSS) formerly the Royal Lifesaving Society of Canada, a nonprofit organization. The lifeguarding certification is the National Lifeguard Service, known as NLS. NLS is the only recognized lifeguarding certification in Canada. This is why the LSS says "we are Canada's lifeguarding experts." The prerequisites for NLS are Bronze cross (the prerequisite for Bronze Cross is Bronze Medallion, which has a requirement of being 13 years old or haveing Bronze Star) and Standard First Aid and CPR-C. The LSS is the certifying body for all of these certifications though first aid awards from the Red Cross and other institutions are also accepted. The LSS motto is "Whomsoever you see in distress, recognise in him or her a fellow person".

In the United Kingdom, there are two main bodies that train Lifeguards. The Royal Life Saving Society ( (RLSS UK) and the Surf Life Saving Society (SLSS). There are also joint ventures with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to provide well funded beach lifeguards. An example of an inland Lifeguard organisation is Colwick Park Lifeguards (, who primarily provide water safety cover on lakes and rivers for large events.

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. Some lifeguard competitions include both physical events and technical (medical) events, while others are purely physical. 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, paddleboard, and surf ski. Most lifeguard competitions include an Iron Guard event that combines three different physical activities.

List of Annual Competitions

  • Parlee Beach, New Brunswick
  • Risser's Beach, Nova Scotia

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