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How to Become a Lifeguard

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

For the surfer, lifeguarding might be a dream job.

You get to work on your tan, wear eye popping red shorts, be at the beach — and save someone's life all in one day.

However, lifeguards are some of the most important people on the beach and take their jobs incredibly seriously.

We’ll break down some of the basics to becoming a lifeguard and the benefits of the job.

Why Be A Lifeguard?

Lifeguarding is one of the most important jobs along America’s coastal cities. It is something that deserves to be taken incredibly seriously.

It takes an incredible amount of knowledge of the ocean and water safety techniques to be a capable lifeguard. S

o that’s why a surfer might make a perfect lifeguard. Surfers have spent their entire lives around the ocean and learning all of its unpredictable tricks.

On top of that it’s one of the only jobs where you can be at the beach all day. Lifeguards don’t make an incredible amount of money, the average salary of beach lifeguards in California is about $21.06 an hour.

However, if working in an office for 8 hours makes you want to pull your hair out then being a lifeguard might be a perfect job for you.

You’ll have an extremely close proximity to waves and the beach. You can even squeeze a surf during a lunch break.

North Shore Oahu lifeguard Luke Shepardson recently won the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational on his lunch break.

How to Become Lifeguard in 5 Steps

Step 1: Train

Depending on the state, they require different physical test requirements.

Most states usually require the trainee to be able to swim for 1,000 yards in under 25 minutes and in Hawaii you must perform a 400 yard rescue board paddle in under four minutes.

The City of Los Angeles Fire Department: Lifeguard Division recommends training for the lifeguard exam by swimming in the ocean at least three to five days a week.

YMCA’s often offer a lifeguard exam training class that is helpful to take as well.

Step 2: Apply

The next step is to apply with your local fire department's lifeguard division. This can usually be done on the fire department website. Then continue to train until the next closest lifeguard exam.

Step 3: Obtain Certifications

Most beach lifeguards require you to have obtained a high school diploma or GED. Then you must complete a lifeguard training class usually done at a local YMCA. Finally, you must complete a basic first aid class and obtain CPR certification as well.

Step 4: Lifeguard Test & Academy

Now that you’ve trained for months and obtained all the proper certifications, it's time to take your lifeguard exam.

The exam usually consists of a multiple choice exam and a physical performance test with a 1,000 yard swim.

If you pass the exam, there's usually some sort of background check you must go through. After passing the exam and background check, there is usually some sort of lifeguard academy that lifeguards must take before hitting the beach and saving lives.

The LA Fire Department requires lifeguard trainees to take a 100 hour course spanning over 5 weekends.

Step 5: First Day on the job

Once you’ve finally made it to the lifeguard tower, don’t think your life's one long Baywatch episode. Lifeguarding is a serious job and requires your full attention. So keep your eyes up and think about surfing after your shift.

How to Become a Lifeguard: Frequently Asked Questions

Next, we'll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about how to become a lifeguard.

Q. How Old Do You Have to Be a Lifeguard?

It depends on the state. Most states require you to be at least 18 years of age and have proof of a high school diploma.

Q. What is a lifeguard’s salary?

Again it depends. In Hawaii, the starting salary is $23.17 an hour. In California it's about the same at about $21.06 an hour. Most lifeguards work 40 hours a week and overtime. Summers and holidays can get more crowded at some locations so more lifeguards get more hours on those days.

Q. What Lifeguard Certifications Do You Need?

You must have passed a basic lifeguard training class done at municipal or YMCA pools.

Then completing a basic first aid class and a CPR certification.

Some states require completion of some sort of lifeguard academy. Then of course you must have a high school diploma.

Conclusion: How to Become a Lifeguard

So maybe lifeguarding isn’t just a paid beach day with your friends.

It’s actually an incredibly important job and it is far from easy to become a lifeguard.

Hopefully, you were able to grasp the pros and cons of becoming a lifeguard and the process it entails.


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