Education and Training: Minimum requirement—Red Cross Advanced Lifesaving Certificate
Salary: Median—$7.95 per hour
Employment Outlook: Seasonal—good; year-round—fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Lifeguards are expert swimmers who ensure the safety of other swimmers. They work almost everywhere that swimming is open to the public, including pools and beaches, youth and athletic associations, schools, municipal recreation departments, private swim clubs, and hotels.
Lifeguards are trained in water safety. They know how to initiate a rescue and remove a distressed swimmer from the water. They also know first aid and are able to give artificial respiration if necessary. In an effort to ensure swimmers' safety, lifeguards watch for situations that could lead to accidents. They do not allow rough play or dangerous objects in the water or the surrounding area.
Most lifeguards sit in tall chairs near the water. Usually these chairs are covered with an umbrella to protect the guards from the sun. Some lifeguards are stationed in rowboats in the water. They frequently use binoculars to get a clearer view of the swimming area.
Poolside lifeguards may perform other duties such as cleaning the pool and the pool area. They remove objects from the water, pick up lost articles, dispose of trash from the pool area, and sometimes are responsible for putting chlorine and other chemicals into the water. In some pools these tasks are performed by the pool operator. Many lifeguards also give swimming lessons.
Education and Training Requirements
Lifeguards must be expert swimmers, be in excellent physical condition, and be able to react quickly in emergency situations. The minimum qualification for the position is a Red Cross Advanced Lifesaving certificate, which requires twenty-two units of instruction in water safety. After receiving this instruction prospective lifeguards must prove their knowledge of water safety by demonstrating the proper techniques of approach and rescue. Every three years lifeguards must take a refresher course to renew the certificate.
Lifeguards may want to earn a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor certificate. To get this certificate, candidates must take longer, more intensive courses of instruction, be at least seventeen years old, and be able to teach all levels of swimmers from beginners to senior lifesavers. To maintain the validity of the Water Safety Instructor certificate, lifeguards must teach at least one course in swimming or lifesaving every two years.
Getting the Job
Interested individuals should apply directly to the beaches or pools where they would like to work. They should be prepared to show their skills before being hired. Many employers prefer to hire lifeguards who can also teach swimming. Newspaper want ads sometimes list job opportunities for lifeguards. Summer resort areas are excellent places to look for a job. The local office of the American Red Cross may be able to assist candidates in their job search as well.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Qualified lifeguards may become swimming instructors. Lifeguards who have a few years of experience and have learned the techniques of running a pool may advance to become pool operators. Many states require these individuals to have a pool operator's card, which verifies that the cardholder understands the basic principles of pool sanitation.
The job outlook for lifeguards is changing. An expansion of tourist and recreational facilities has increased the number of openings available, but the low hourly salaries have made it difficult for resorts to fill these positions. Competition for jobs at high-paying establishments is keen. Experienced lifeguards are in a better position than new workers to negotiate for higher fees.
Most lifeguards are students who enjoy the water. They must be strong swimmers and patient observers, focusing all of their attention on the swimmers they have been hired to protect. If they work at outdoor pools or beaches they must be prepared to spend many hours in the hot sun.
Lifeguards usually work forty hours a week. A short rest period is usually allowed each hour. Because pools are open to serve the public, many lifeguards work evenings and weekends. A good deal of lifeguard work is seasonal; those who work at outdoor facilities may have to find other jobs for the rest of the year.
Where to Go for More Information
Earnings and Benefits
Lifeguard work is most often available in the summer, which limits earning potential. Wages are also affected by geography. For instance, lifeguards on California's ocean beaches make more than lifeguards on small lakes in the Midwest. Indoor pools in private clubs or in large hotels pay higher wages than pools and beaches that are open only in the summer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for lifeguards was $7.95 per hour in 2004. In many places lifeguards can expect to start at the minimum wage. In other places experienced lifeguards who work year-round can make between $12 and $27 per hour. Full-time employees may receive paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and sick leave.