The idea of working as a lifeguard may bring up a picture of hunky guys and gorgeous girls who are tanned, muscular and beautiful and who perform daring Baywatch-style rescues along the beach. In reality, of course, the job is quite different from how it is depicted on television. Lifeguards come in all sizes and shapes, and they work inside as often as on the beach. It is, however, an extremely important job because it involves keeping people safe.
Lifeguards are expert swimmers who work at almost any location where people swim. They know how to save a person who is drowning or who has sustained an injury while swimming, and they can give artificial respiration if required. They keep a close eye on all the people under their care. The job of a lifeguard is one with a great deal of responsibility.
In general, a lifeguard monitors a recreation facility or a beach to make sure swimmers are following safety rules and no one is having trouble. He or she generally sits on a tall chair with a good view of the water and the swimming area. Binoculars are sometimes necessary, and if working outdoors, a large umbrella usually protects workers from sunburn.
The job can involve much more, however. Lifeguards may design and lead specific activities for both children and adults. They maintain sports equipment and are in charge of keeping the pool area clean and safe. Workers may be responsible for pool maintenance and adding chlorine and pool chemicals. He or she may be responsible for designing activities for particular groups, such as seniors, and they make sure any equipment used is kept organized and in good condition.
Often lifeguards teach swimming or give safety classes. They may give demonstrations of proper ways to use equipment and educate people on swimming safety rules. They need to assess swimmer competency and make sure swimmers are not in an area of water depth that is beyond their skill level. An extremely important part of their job is safety. Lifeguards are trained in rescue and first aid techniques. They must explain safety rules to swimmers and enforce them. Should an accident or potential drowning occur, guards must administer first aid, rescue breathing, or artificial respiration.
Lifeguards working outdoors on a beach must also monitor the beach for hazards, such as sharks, jellyfish or stingrays, as well as dangerous waves and surf. They are responsible for enforcing any "no swimming" rules. Workers in a children's camp may lead and supervise a number of activities. Synchronized swimming is a sport that is increasing in popularity, and lifeguards are often involved as coaches, monitoring safety and traveling with the team to competitions.
Lifeguards must be expert swimmers. Many are at a competitive skill level in swimming or another sport. They must have first aid and CPR training. Training and experience in management, supervision and program development is important. A background in physical education is also an asset. Knowledge in the area of fitness and nutrition is helpful. Lifeguards working in treatment facilities with clientele such as the elderly or disabled need special training.
Depending on the country, they may require certification or registration with a relevant sporting association. In Canada and the U.S. they must be certified in Water Safety/Lifeguard training and in First Aid/CPR by the Red Cross or the Lifesaving Society. This requires a specific number of training hours, including water safety and other courses. A refresher or recertification is required every three years. In the U.S. certification from the National Recreation and Park Administration requires a bachelor degree or at least five years experience in the field. In Australia, workers must be at least 16 years old, and are certified by taking a number of courses, including beach management.
Characteristics required include physical fitness, stamina and good health. Excellent vision is essential. Workers need to be patient and personable and comfortable working with people of all ages. They need to be able to inspire confidence in those they are monitoring, so good leadership and communication skills are important. Workers communicate with people of all ages, and they need to be able to explain safety rules in a way that is clear and understandable. Good problem-solving skills, ability to exert good judgement under pressure and quick response times are essential.
Lifeguards work in both indoor and outdoor locations. These can include sports associations, community leagues and health clubs. Many resorts, health clubs and summer camps hire lifeguards. Municipal parks and recreational facilities are common workplace locations, as are schools and college athletic departments. There are opportunities in hospitals and residential treatment facilities, working with individuals with special needs or the elderly. Travel can sometimes be part of the job, as employment is available at resorts and on cruise ships.
Outdoor locations can include beaches at the ocean or at a lake, in parks, or outdoor recreation facilities. Lifeguards may be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, and wind and inclement weather may also be a factor.
Seasonal fluctuations impact the workplace, with greater employment opportunities during warmer weather, and work is often part-time. Although the workplace is generally safe, there are always risks around large bodies of water, and a lifeguard could be injured in the process of rescuing someone.