Lifeguarding: An Inviolate Primer


If you have a swimming pool, you must have lifeguards. If you have lifeguards, their job is to protect the individuals who use your facility. While your executive directors and supervisors may not have aquatic backgrounds, they still need to be very aware of what constitutes a safe swimming environment. The following points are considered basic and inviolate. They include both management procedures and guard behavior. For an expanded version of this listing providing more detail than is possible on a single page, please see RMT: Lifeguarding… an inviolate primer on our web site.

  • Any pool that has people in it, on its deck, or is not locked and secured should be actively guarded by at least one, preferably two or more qualified YMCA staff lifeguards.
  • Lifeguards should strive to actively scan their entire area of responsibility every 10 seconds, even if swimmers are only in a portion of it. The scanning should produce a constant awareness of presence and activity on and below the water's surface, on the pool bottom, and on the pool deck.
  • Lifeguards should not compromise their scanning activity by ancillary (assigned) duties or extraneous (elective) activities.
  • Lifeguards should be aware of the swimming capabilities and/or physical challenges of everyone in the pool and should ensure that non-swimmers are in shallow water and provided additional layers of protection.
  • Lifeguards should position themselves so that their view of the pool bottom of their entire area of responsibility is not compromised by glare, building components, or floating play structures.
  • Lifeguards should position themselves so that they can reach any area of their responsibility within 10 to 20 seconds (10 seconds is the recommended guideline for YMCA of the USA lifeguard accreditation).
  • Lifeguards should have their eyes at least at the level of a standing adult while actively guarding the pool (i.e., they should be standing at pool edge or seated in an elevated guard chair; they should never sit in an ordinary-height chair or bench on the pool deck).
  • Lifeguards should have their rescue tube with them, strap attached, whenever they are guarding.
  • Lifeguards should have their personal protective equipment (airway and gloves) with them whenever they are guarding (either on their person or attached to their rescue buoy).
  • Lifeguards should have appropriate rotation (i.e., concentration) breaks and rest periods.
  • Lifeguards should be properly attired while guarding (i.e., ready to enter the water, not dressed in street clothing or shoes).
  • Lifeguards should participate in regular, documented in-service training.

Aquatic safety is everyone's responsibility. We must be diligent to maintain absolutely safe swimming pools for our members and guests. There is no excuse for a drowning or near drowning in our pools.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.


Submit a comment