The average aquatic management staff is very busy. Staff training,
including lifeguard courses, often are conducted at specific times
that correspond to available instructor staff, pool space and
Occasionally (or in some cases, frequently), a prospective employee
will arrive with lifeguard credentials in hand, only needing to be
given a rescue tube and pointed in the direction of the nearest
vacant lifeguard stand. If you are short-staffed and/or very busy,
it may be tempting to do just that.
However, before handing them a rescue tube, consider the
1. Are the credentials offered valid? The
prospective employee arrives with a paper or card (or set of cards)
that indicates they are, in fact, a lifeguard, certified or
licensed to perform the duties and skills you would expect a
lifeguard to do. But does this paperwork mean anything at all if it
is not valid? To ensure it is, investigate the origin. Questions to
ask the prospective lifeguard include:
• Where did you receive this training?
• What type of facility did you work at in the past,
utilizing this training?
• What was the name of the instructor or instructors of the
• What was the date or dates of completion?
Using this information, attempt to contact the facility and
instructor. Confirm that the prospective guard passed and has
reference materials (such as course textbooks or online training
access). Contact the certifying agency to see if records show that
the lifeguard has completed the courses indicated. Finally, confirm
that the current date falls comfortably within the period of time
that the credentials are valid. Document this investigation along
with copies of the credentials you will keep on file for future
2. Can these lifeguard credentials be used here?
Many training agencies issue certifications or licenses and,
depending upon your risk management plan, you may accept one or
several. If the training agency is different than the organization
you primarily use, differences in protocol may exist that
complicate or compromise your emergency action plan.
Lifeguards using different techniques than those practiced during
in-service will create chaos during an emergency. Even lifeguards
with the same training may be accustomed to site-specific
techniques that may not apply to your facility. It will be vital to
normalize techniques and procedures with all lifeguards to an
This site-specific training would need to be completed in the form
of an in-service that covers each emergency action plan procedure
for various types of incidents to ensure a consistent standard of
care. Additionally, specific training covering scanning techniques
and procedures used by the aquatics facility should be reviewed.
This training should be completed before lifeguards occupy a guard
station on their own, and it should be documented.
3. The card or license states that they know what
they’re doing, but there’s only one way to know for
sure! Once you determine that the lifeguards’
credentials are valid and consistent with the techniques used at
your facility, determine what they actually know through drills and
scenarios: a comprehensive in-service training and test-out.
Begin with the prerequisites for the specific lifeguard course they
originally completed to determine basic endurance and swimming
skills. Ensure that they can reach the bottom of the pool in the
maximum depth that they may be responsible for while on duty.
Continue by subjecting lifeguards to practical scenarios involving
rescuing an active guest in distress on the surface, below the
surface, and at the bottom of various pools and attractions.
Next, involve guards in team management scenarios including other
guards, utilizing your emergency action plan. These scenarios
should cover incidents such as a suspected spinal injury and an
unconscious guest in various locations and depths. To ensure
lifeguards have retained BLS skills, have them perform
single/multiple rescuer CPR/AR (aquatic rescue)/FBAO (foreign body
airway obstruction) skills on a manikin for adult, child and infant
age groups. First aid skills also should be evaluated through
Guards should be able to perform all skills and their knowledge
evaluated (practical and written) at the same level required to
pass the lifeguard course, at a minimum. It would be reasonable to
expect that experienced lifeguards would be able to exceed that
minimum standard, once understanding and practice of site-specific
procedures and the emergency action plan have been established. It
would be wise to follow up on this evaluation by having guards
shadow an experienced lifeguard and to make them the subject of an
internal audit shortly after being placed on duty.
Ultimately, you’re the one who must feel comfortable with the
skills and abilities of any lifeguard, whether you trained them
directly or not. A certification states only that the cardholder
was capable of performing the skills required to gain the
certification on the day the card was signed; a certification does
not proclaim competency beyond the completion date on the card.
Responsibility for ongoing lifeguard competency is the full
responsibility of the employer/ owner/ operator of a facility that
Establish a policy and procedure that makes sense for your
facility’s specific needs, utilizing these suggestions, and
periodically review and update them. A quality pre-service,
in-service training /test-out program, is essential to providing
maximum swimmer protection.