Lifeguard Skills: Lifesaving Skills Every Lifeguard Should Know

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The United States Lifeguard Standards Coalition (USLSC) prepared a 2011 report summarizing the skills necessary for certification and employment as a lifeguard in America. The report is based on field-leading research and multiple organizations’ past experiences training highly skilled lifeguards. The standards are fully endorsed by the YMCA of the USA, the American Red Cross, and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). A standardized set of training standards aims to increase the lifeguard’s ability to prevent injuries and death and hold all certified lifeguards to the same standard.

The USLSC report presents the life-saving skills most vital to lifeguard training. Based on the research studies reviewed during its preparation, the authors can share traits of effective lifeguards and practices that promote safe environments and decrease drowning and near drowning incidents. Lifeguard certification providers must cover these skills and strategies in depth to ensure their students are fully prepared to act as lifeguards.

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The Coalition recognizes that online training programs can effectively teach students basic life support (BLS) and specific lifeguarding skills and effectively provide lifeguard certifications. Online programs can cover the same content as face-to-face training with increased flexibility and availability. The skills, strategies, and procedures covered below are known to be effectively taught in both face-to-face and web formats.

Effective Scanning:

The Coalition report identifies scanning as a benchmark lifeguarding skill. Although no specific training standard is associated with the skill, it is declared that practice improves the lifeguard’s ability to detect targets across the entire vision field, rather than focusing on the small area in the center and ignoring areas to the left and right of the center of vision. In addition, focus on the use of head movement, with instructor observation, and feedback is a critical component of lifeguard training.

Maintaining Vigilance:

Lifeguards must display vigilance while on duty. The lifeguard must be ready to detect and respond to minute changes in swimmers’ behavior. A certification program should cover behaviors that decrease a lifeguard’s ability to maintain vigilance, such as extreme temperatures, loud noise, and sugary beverages while increasing alertness. Being well rested, consuming caffeine if needed, and receiving regular encouragement have improved lifeguard vigilance.

Preventing in-attentional Blindness:

In-attentional Blindness is another concern for lifeguards. It occurs when a lifeguard is distracted by another swimmer or an event happening in front of him. As a result, the lifeguard focuses his vision on one thing and tunes out the surrounding swimmers and happenings. Although the research failed to identify ways to prevent this Blindness, the report highlights the need to educate lifeguards of its existence and the need to use active surveillance as prevention.

Identifying High-Risk Behaviors:

Lifeguards need to be able to identify swimmers who are at a higher risk for drowning. Although some studies point out specific age groups, genders, or ethnicities as risk factors, no common patterns were found across history. Instead, one element was identified as a common cause of drowning: alcohol consumption. Therefore, lifeguard certification programs should explain the link between alcohol consumption and drowning and encourage policies that prevent those under the influence of alcohol from entering the water.

Taking Breaks:

Studies showed that a lifeguard’s vigilance is reduced over time. The longer a lifeguard is required to scan an area, the greater the reduction in vigilance. Although different studies showed different losses over varying time frames, it has been shown that lifeguards need to monitor their alertness and take periodic breaks. A lifeguard can restore his vigilance and be better prepared to watch the swimmers by stepping away from scanning and allowing for a rest period.

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What are the CPR/First Aid Skills Needed for Lifeguard Certification?


Lifeguards must know how to open or maintain an airway in a drowning process victim. Quickly opening the victim’s airway and providing rescue breathing is critical to preventing a drowning fatality. Lifeguards must be trained and able to open an airway in the water with or without using a flotation aid once the victim is on land. Lifeguards should also master techniques to prevent vomiting from swallowing water. Some lifeguard certification firms may train lifeguards to use manual and electric suction devices to clear the victim’s throat, but this is not a necessary component of the certification process. Finally, a lifeguard should know how to prepare a victim for transportation to a hospital in a manner that protects the airway.

Also Read- CPR vs Rescue Breathing: The Basic Difference

Cervical Spine Injuries:

Drowning incidents may be accompanied by spinal injuries. When a spinal injury is possible due to accidents related to diving, water skiing, surfing, or other activities, lifeguards need to modify their rescue strategies to protect the spine. At the same time, a lifeguard’s energy can be wasted on protecting a victim’s spine when a spinal injury is unlikely. Establishing a clear airway takes priority over stabilizing a spinal injury if a spinal injury is suspected. Once the airway is open, the victim can be immobilized on a spine board for transport to a hospital.

Also Read- 5 Common Sports Injuries and Their First Aid Treatment.

Supplemental Oxygen:

Lifeguards can use supplemental oxygen during a rescue, as long as its use does not slow the pace of the rescue. Therefore, immediate attention must be given to establishing an airway and rescue breathing.

In addition to these skills, a lifeguard must have competencies beyond the classroom and prepare the rescuer for situations encountered in the water. The skills discussed below are suggested as water-related standards that all lifeguards should master.

Water Rescue Competencies:

A physical skill set (PSS) is necessary for a lifeguard to be able to rescue a struggling swimmer. Detecting a health emergency is the first step in preventing an injury or death. Without the physical strength, stamina, and water skills, the lifeguard is left standing on the side, watching the tragedy unfold. Standards for lifeguard PSS will vary by venue, as dictated by the unique features of that location, but they have commonalities. The PSS suggested by the Coalition is a baseline list of things that the average lifeguard should be able to do as part of a timed water rescue competency test (WRCT). It includes:

Also Read- A Study Guide for CPR/AED Class.

These requirements are only the beginning of water rescue competencies. Site managers may design tests with additional components, such as multiple victim situations, navigating strong surf, or using floatation and rescue aids. Lifeguard certification should cover the basic components and offer participants the option of studying advanced rescue techniques to provide certifications that prepare guards for rescues in various environments.

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Why Go for CPR Certification?

CPR certification classes for a lifeguard is a process designed to prepare a person to work in a situation when water-related accidents are possible. If you are a lifeguard, you must enroll in an accredited BLS certification online. The skills and standards listed in this article describe the foundation skills that certification depends on and the types of things a lifeguard will need to know how to do once employed. In addition to the skills discussed above, a lifeguard may need basic first aid training skills and techniques for sharing safety guidelines with swimmers in the water. No matter the swimming expertise of the lifeguard, the working environment desired, or the types of swimmers a lifeguard will encounter, it is the first step to employment and confidence in one’s ability to save a life.

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