Because a drowning can happen quickly, training lifeguards to be vigilant at all times while on duty is crucial to their success.
Particularly important in equipping lifeguards to be alert is
effective supervision and support, along with victim recognition
and emergency drills.
Vigilant lifeguards are the result of an ongoing dialogue and
partnership between the lifeguards and their supervisors.
Supervisors are responsible for helping the guards fully understand
and appreciate the seriousness of the role they play in protecting
To perform at their best, guards need to understand the importance
and meaning of their work. This begins with an effective hiring and
shadowing process that properly trains and orients new lifeguards
to the department and their responsibilities.
After the initial orientation, supervisors should:
• Meet regularly with lifeguarding staff, in group meetings
as well as one on one. During this time, the supervisor can deal
with any issues that crop up related to general duties and
performance, clarify expectations, recognize excellent performance
and provide corrective feedback, if necessary.
• Use continuing education tools, such as articles, videos
and case studies to emphasize the seriousness of lifeguarding.
• Provide leadership opportunities to encourage greater
growth and commitment.
• Conduct unannounced videotapings of lifeguards while they
are on surveillance duty. This allows guards to review and critique
the effectiveness of their patron surveillance, posture and
• Conduct lifeguard quick-checks. These are quick
observations and assessments of lifeguards to ensure that they are
rescue-ready. Quick-checks also can be performed by nonaquatics
staffers and facility patrons.
Questions to answer or mark off on a short form during the
quick-checks can include: Is the lifeguard identifiable? Is the
lifeguard positioned appropriately? Does the lifeguard appear to be
rescue-ready? Is the lifeguard actively scanning? Is anything
distracting the lifeguard?
Quick-checks can be especially beneficial if done at different
times throughout the day and by multiple people rather than one
Conditioning lifeguards to understand and expect that an emergency
could occur at any time during their shifts can heighten their
watchfulness. If they do not come to work expecting to make a
rescue, they are more likely to fail to recognize or misinterpret
an actual emergency.
Conducting victim recognition drills such as silhouette doll or
manikin drops, or “live victim” simulation drills,
during operational hours can effectively train and condition
lifeguards to be keenly observant. For recognition drills to be
effective, guards should be trained to recognize a drowning person
and to respond during these drills — as if it were a real
emergency, including activating the facility’s emergency
action plan and performing a complete rescue.
Emergency drills should be held as a regular part of your training
program. When conducting drills:
• Use an evaluation form to review lifeguard performance.(See Know the Drill.)
• Vary the type of victim or scenario.
• Ensure that the drill is conducted only in-house. Do not
notify or inadvertently alert EMS. Also, facility patrons should be
informed that this is only a drill.
• Make sure the front desk and assisting staff members
practice their roles in the emergency action plan as well.
• Have someone quietly place the silhouette doll or manikin
in the pool and observe the practical application of the facility’s emergency protocols.
• Time how long it takes the lifeguard to recognize the
victim, to reach the victim in the water, and to move the victim
safely to the pool deck and begin emergency first aid.
• After the drill, debrief with staff to determine where they
excelled and where improvements are needed.
Lifeguarding is a very challenging profession that can be
repetitive and exhausting. However, guards are expected to be
attentive by being on alert every minute of the day.
While lifeguarding often is viewed as an entry level position, and
performed by young adults, it should be treated with the same level
of attention and seriousness of any emergency response
professional. Do your part by providing your staff with the
training, knowledge and culture they need to be professional and