Lifeguard “certification” is a means of demonstrating that a person has passed a lifeguard training course.

Generally, local health regulatory agencies require that public pools and aquatics facilities provide certified lifeguards.


In the United States, health agencies recognize five organizations providing lifeguard training curricula for pools:

1.American Red Cross

2. Ellis &Associates

3.National Aquatic Safety Co.

4.Starfish Aquatics Institute/StarGuard


Each program includes core lifeguarding skills, but there are differences in teaching methodology (video-/lecture-based vs. hands-on), philosophy (prescriptive vs. objective-based), and the service and delivery models. Some also provide modules or courses for specialty venues such as waterparks and waterfronts.

For open water surf environments, the United States Lifesaving Association provides accreditation for site-specific training programs developed by agencies that operate swimming beaches, and in some locations the Boy Scouts of America provide training for lifeguards at camps operated by that agency. Landmark Learning, in cooperation with the SAI, offers a wilderness lifeguard certification for individuals responsible for aquatic activity safety in remote areas.


In addition to vigilance and rescue skills, lifeguards are required to have training that prepares them to respond to health and injury emergencies, and to be certified in CPR/AED, first aid, bloodborne pathogens and, for facilities with the equipment, emergency oxygen. Some lifeguard training organizations integrate emergency care content into the lifeguard curriculum, with certifications from recognized emergency care organizations earned concurrently. Others require emergency care certifications as a prerequisite to lifeguard training. 


The first step in hiring a competent staff is to determine how individuals will be trained and certified. Following are several options, each with its own pros and cons. You should carefully weigh what will provide the opportunity for your operation.

Become an authorized provider for, or client of, one of the lifeguard training organizations. This relationship allows operators to have instructors on staff who train lifeguards to work at the facility. This option provides the most integrated training and quality oversight.

  • Contract with a lifeguard instructor to conduct courses at your facility.
  • Hire lifeguards who have completed a lifeguard course offered in the community, such as those taught by schools.


Be sure to avoid some common certification fallacies. First, understand that “certified” does not always mean “qualified.” Certification is proof that a lifeguard has, on a given day, demonstrated skill at a level sufficient to successfully complete a training course.

Certification does not guarantee competency, nor imply future performance or sufficiency of training for all facilities. The length of certification varies between the organizations, from one to two years. It is likely that a lifeguard’s skills have degraded if he or she has not been actively working during the certification period.

Second, “certification,” “license” and  “license agreement” are not the same things. Some states or counties require a certified lifeguard to pay a fee and pass a test to obtain a “license” to work. Some of the training organizations offer a “license agreement” for lifeguards. The guards agree to maintain performance standards, and the training organization can revoke the license for cause at any time.

Certification is only the first step. Once you hire “certified lifeguards,” your responsibility for aquatic safety is not over. As an employer, you have the responsibility to:

  • Verify the competency of the lifeguards you hire in the facility where they will work, and at the depths they will be assigned.
  • Provide site-specific training. This training should include facility policy and procedure, emergency action plans, and rescues with facility-specific equipment.
  • Supervise the lifeguards, and regularly assess competency.
  • Provide ongoing training (in-service). 

In the end, certification is only one piece in the overall aquatic safety and risk management system that should be in place at any aquatics facility.

About the Instructor

Jill White is the founder of the Starfish Aquatics Institute. She has developed innovative lifeguard programs, and written several training textbooks. In 2011 Jill received the World Waterpark Association’s Al Turner Commitment to Excellence Award for leadership and consistent example of business and operational excellence.