Pool/Beach Lifeguard

The Job and What's Involved

Lifeguards patrol places where the public go swimming, including indoor and outdoor pools, beaches and lakes. They are responsible for making sure that people are safe in and near the water.

Every swimming pool establishment has a pool safety operating procedure (PSOP) which tells staff how the pool is run day to day and what a lifeguard has to do in an emergency.

The daily duties of a pool lifeguard are likely to include:

  • Keeping a close watch over the pool and the pool users.
  • Communicating effectively with pool users and colleagues.
  • Anticipating problems and preventing accidents by keeping a keen eye out for swimmers in difficulties.
  • Intervening to prevent behaviour which is unsafe.
  • Identifying emergencies quickly and taking appropriate action.
  • Carrying out rescues from the water using life-saving aids such as ropes, poles and torpedo buoys.
  • Giving immediate first aid to any casualty.
  • Being able to supervise different pools and different pool activities.

In order to maintain their concentration, lifeguards usually spend only a set period of time patrolling the pool before swapping with colleagues and moving on to another job or area to patrol. Teamwork is very important.

In some pools, lifeguards may also spend time on other duties such as:

  • Supervising changing areas.
  • Cleaning around the pool, showers and changing rooms.
  • Ensuring the pool is safe to swim in, including testing the water temperature, pH and chlorine levels.
  • Setting up and operating pool plant equipment.
  • Aministrative work.

Beach lifeguards work in teams patrolling popular stretches of the coast, advising people when and where they can swim safely and making rescues when necessary.

A key task is for a beach lifeguard is to make sure that people do not stray outside safe areas where there may be hazards, such as submerged rocks and strong currents. These areas are often marked out using a series of flags on the beach or are roped off using buoys.

They need to pay special attention to inflatables such as dinghies, which can be easily carried out to sea. They also need to know about local tides.

They may also be involved in hiring out surfboards and rowing boats to the public.

All lifeguards also play an important role in educating people about water safety and some beach lifeguards are employed to give talks to school children during the winter.

Pool lifeguards work five days a week including evenings, weekends and public holidays. Shifts are often on a rota.

Around one third of lifeguards work part time or on a casual basis. Many work as volunteers.

Work for beach lifeguards is seasonal. The full season last twenty weeks from May to September, but many work an eight-week period that covers the school holidays. It is common for beach lifeguards to spend the winter working at a swimming pool.

Most pool lifeguards work indoors; the pool area is wet, noisy and humid. Some pools are outdoors and lifeguards may also work at rivers and lakes.

Lifeguards working outdoors need to take sun safety precautions.

Lifeguards working on a casual basis are usually paid between £6 and £9 an hour.

Starting salaries for full-time lifeguards are usually £11,500 to £14,000. With more experience, lifeguards may earn £15,000 or more.

These figures can be increased by overtime and payments for extra responsibilities such as coaching duties.

Seasonal lifeguards typically earn around £200 a week.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are over 75,000 qualified lifeguards in the UK, working in public swimming pools, leisure centres, schools, colleges, hotels, holiday centres and private fitness centres.

There are also around 1,000 beach lifeguards. Most are employed by local authorities or private companies to cover local beaches.

There is usually a strong demand for lifeguards, especially temporary lifeguards to work during peak times such as school holidays, summer and weekends.

Many more people work as pool lifeguards than on beaches, and around five per cent of lifeguards are self-employed.

There are some opportunities to work abroad with holiday companies.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press or on the websites of employers. There are also specialist websites such as www.leisurejobs.com and www.leisureopportunities.co.uk

Education and Training

No educational qualifications are required, but many employers expect a good standard of English and maths. A sports-related qualification, such as an A level in PE or a fitness-related NVQ is also useful.

To work as a pool lifeguard, a candidate must be aged at least 16, physically fit and a strong swimmer. They must hold one of the following qualifications:

The National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) which is awarded by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS). Courses are run at local pools and approved training centres. It is divided into two units, life saving and swimming pool supervision (including rescue and first aid), and the application of supervision and rescue skills in the workplace.

The Swimming Teachers' Association (STA) Level 2 Certificate for the National Rescue Standard - Pool Lifeguard. The award takes 40 hours which may be undertaken as an intensive course or spread over a longer period.

The STA runs similar courses for private leisure and health clubs. There are also awards aimed directly at young people who are still at school.

Courses are available all over the country.

To work as a beach lifeguard, candidates must be aged at least 18 and have either The National Beach Lifeguard Qualification or the Assistant Beach Lifesaver Award from the RLSS.

The National Rescue Standard Beach Lifeguard Awards are run through clubs by the Surf Life Saving Association of Great Britain. It trains beach lifeguards in beach- and sea-rescue techniques and in managing and supervising beaches.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) also trains beach lifeguards. Their selection for training involves a fitness test.

The Institute of Sport and Recreation Management runs a series of National Pool Plant Operative awards, covering water treatment and pool plant operation.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Both the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification and the National Rescue Standard - Pool Lifeguard are valid for two years and can be renewed after a successful assessment.

Both awards can also be used as evidence towards an NVQ Level 2 in sport and recreation.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute trains beach lifeguards in the use of specialist equipment such as inflatable rescue boats, rescue watercraft (jet skis) and quad bikes.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Lifeguards should:

  • Be strong swimmers and physically fit.
  • Have good vision and hearing.
  • Have a knowledge of first aid.
  • Be able to concentrate for long periods, often in noisy environments.
  • Be observant.
  • Be able to think and act quickly.
  • Be able to cope calmly in an emergency.
  • Communicate with members of the public effectively and with authority.
  • Be able to deal with difficult people firmly but tactfully.
  • Work well in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience pool lifeguards can move on to become pool supervisors or assistant managers. Some gain swimming teaching or coaching qualifications and become swimming teachers.

They can also take other jobs in the leisure industry, such as senior recreation assistant, duty manager, or general pool manager.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Institute of Sport and Recreation Management (ISRM),
Sir John Beckwith Centre for Sport,
Loughborough University,
Loughborough LE11 3TU
Tel: 01509 226474
Website: www.isrm.co.uk

The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS),
River House, High Street,
Broom, Warwickshire B50 4HN
Tel: 0300 3230 096
Website: rlss.org.uk

Royal National Lifeboat Institution,
West Quay Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 1HZ
Tel: 08451226999
Website: www.rnli.org.uk

Sport England, 3rd Floor,
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square,
London WC1B 4SE
Tel: 020 727 31551
Website: www.sportengland.org

Surf Life Saving Great Britain,
Buckland House, Park 5, Harrier Way, Sowton, Exeter EX2 7HU
Tel: 01392 369111
Website: www.slsgb.org.uk

Swimming Teachers' Association,
Anchor House, Birch Street,
Walsall WS2 8HZ
Tel: 01922 645097
Website: www.sta.co.uk

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