What it takes to become a lifeguard

I have been lifeguarding since I was 16. I qualified from a six day course with an assessment nearly four years ago, and it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made! I have made lots of money from it (as you are skilled you are on a higher wage), you have a highly valuable skill and
it looks really impressive to universities and on a CV. Lifeguarding definitely helped me for my application onto a Paramedic Science degree.

What does it involve?

The time I turned the pool water pink/purple
The initial National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) covers lifesaving, first aid and theory. The
course is usually six days with the exam at the end. The course is not difficult, although does require focus to pass. You are taught lifesaving: tows, spinal preservation and rescue, defensive blocks within the water, first aid: similar to a First Aid at Work Level 3 Qualification, with a variety of skills, such as bandaging, recognising seizures and hypoglycemic events and basic life support (BLS) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and theory: covering laws, responsibilities and correct standard procedures.

There is no prior knowledge needed to book the qualification, although you must be able to swim. Everything (lifesaving, theory and first aid) is taught as part of the qualification. Basic reading skills are preferable as there is a manual which is the instructor will go through with you. Generally there is not homework as the course is quite physically demanding that all you want to do after a long day is sleep. They may suggest you go for a swim afterwards if you are struggling with your timed swims but there is very little 'go home and learn'. After two years from qualification, you must complete a re-qualification and have 20 hours. You are paid for your training when you work as a lifeguard and the company you work for will likely pay for your re-qualification.


It is suggested that you can swim 50m in 60 seconds, however I could not at the start of my course as I had the flu. You must be able to swim as the technical skills and timed swims depend on a strong swimming ability. You also must go in with the right mindset as the course is very full on and you learn a great amount in a very short space of time. Usually the NPLQ costs between £200 and £300 to enrol, and may cost more if you fail and wish to retake. Sometimes leisure centres and health clubs will pay for your qualification if you sign a contract to work with them afterwards, especially if they are in need of lifeguards, so it is worth asking around before taking part as you could save yourself money and land yourself a job!  You can sign up to any course, so long as you turn 16 before the exam date.

Wet-Side Training

There are two timed swims where you tow the casualty, one with a torpedo buoy who is conscious, another which is a manual tow of an unconscious casualty, these also are part of the deep water rescues. I found the speed when swimming the most difficult part of the training as although I am a strong swimmer, I have never been a sprinter. There shallow water rescues where you rescue from either the side or in the water. These all involve the torpedo buoy and you can encourage the casualty to swim to you or you can drag them in. Deep water rescue includes diving to the bottom of the pool, picking up the casualty and extracting them from the pool as part of a team. The body at the bottom is a manikin which gets swapped for a body at the water surface so it is more realistic getting the body out. This includes an important sequence for getting help and resuscitation in and out of the water. Spinal rescues are a major part of the qualification. There are shallow water turns, deep water spinal trawl, and spinal board which is completed as part of a team. All of this is gone through daily in the pool, where you spend between two and four hours every day.

To help out your team, learn to be a good body! Try to float and be floppy. If you are being rescued with a torpedo buoy, encourage your body to lie on their back as this makes them easier to pull from the water.

Dry-Side Training

This involves first aid and CPR which may include an AED bolt on qualification. If you have done Level 3 First Aid at Work you may be able to drop a few training hours due to the similarity, however as you are paying for the qualification, it makes sense to refresh your training and get the most for your money. CPR and AED is a huge part of this understandably. Adult, paediatric and baby CPR is taught, alongside spinal preservation. The first aid goes into a vast amount of detail including fractures, wounds, electrocution, chlorine gas leaks, hypothermia/heatstroke, hypo/hyperglycemia, chest pain, stroke and many more! Some parts require an awareness and others (such as fractures and wounds) require intervention, again, all taught within the course. 


The theory side is hugely diverse. The relevant laws are taught which reinforce that you are responsible for your own lifeguarding, and that something goes wrong (and you were in the wrong) that it is your fault. Other theory includes how you actually lifeguard: scanning techniques, how to implement rules for safety (and to make your life easier), correct rotation procedure, and other information regarding pool depths and other features (fun stuff like flumes and wave machines). It is important to understand the features of pools as this provides an understanding of what can go wrong and how to prevent it. Good health and safety means that you do not have to get wet very often: a dry lifeguard is usually a good lifeguard. Prevention is better than cure.

Why Should I Become a Lifeguard?

There are a few different reasons you should become a lifeguard. Firstly the pay is great! When I started in 2014, I was paid £6.50 an hour (which is not bad for a 16 year old). Now four years on, I'm getting paid £8 an hour, and this seems to be the minimum paid, and council run pools usually pay better than this. If you think minimum wage for a 16 year old is £4.20, lifeguard wages are great! I work at outdoor pools, leisure centres and health clubs. I like to split my time between a couple of different places for variety, however there is nothing saying you must work all over the place, and there are always hours to be picked up as there is a shortage of lifeguards. Outdoor pools are great as you get fresh air and a tan. Leisure centres and health clubs usually give you free membership so this means you are saving £££s per year on a gym membership.
Working a Hawaiian pool party

The people who become lifeguards are great! Most of my closest friends are people I've worked with
as lifeguards. It shows great qualities in a person and we always have a laugh. After-work drinks anyone? Beach BBQs? My favourite/most memorable parties have been on holiday parks with the lifeguards (and kids entertainers - they know how to through a party too).

On a more serious note, it looks great on your CV and personal statement for work and university in the future. You develop great skills: you are constantly being reassessed and having to learn new things, you have a great understanding of health and safety, good first aid skills and other transferable skills. Anything you can boast about, write it on your CV. It also leads into other jobs and you get other contacts through where you work. It is an easy way to become a swimming instructor (some companies may even pay for you to become one), gym instructor and even paramedic. When I had my university interview for Paramedic Science, they loved my background in rescues, first aid and health and safety.

In conclusion, I love being a lifeguard! It is a great part time job when at school, college and university and can even lead into some amazing careers! You can travel the world in gap years, getting paid good money for lifeguarding, and you can dip in and out as you wish. I hope this post was interesting and you enjoyed my photos!


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