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    Developing Attentive and Effective Lifeguards

    photo: a pair of goggles sitting by the pool

    Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide, and well-trained, alert lifeguards are the primary defense against accidental drowning. But lifeguard vigilance can be a challenge. To promote lifeguard attentiveness, consider the following actions.

    Emergency Preparedness Training

    Most lifeguards have little hands-on experience responding to emergencies, so consistent training is required to keep skills fresh. Additionally, lifeguards often need regular emergency response instruction to maintain their certifications. Aquatics experts recommend that emergency preparedness training focus on:

    • Recognizing a victim
    • Activating the emergency action plan
    • Performing a rescue
    • Resuscitating a drowning victim

    Be prepared to practice multiple emergency scenarios and consider supplementing instruction sessions with surprise “spot training” drills. This Safe-Wise brief describes one popular drill, which involves dropping a dummy in the pool and timing the on-duty lifeguard’s victim recognition and response. Lifeguards who fail to recognize and respond within 30 seconds might be assigned an additional swimming workout or more scanning practice to help improve response times.


    Even when lifeguards are well-trained, long shifts pose a challenge to alertness. Aquatics management can combat boredom and promote attentiveness by encouraging lifeguards to:

    • Remain active. Sitting lifeguards should change positions every 15-30 minutes and take regular breaks away from the pool deck throughout their shift. Consider implementing a roving lifeguard post, especially during busy times, to provide backup coverage and break the monotony of sitting.
    • Track swimmers in their zones. Lifeguards should be assigned zones. As a guideline, try to assign each guard to an area he or she can effectively scan in 10 seconds and reach a victim in about 20 seconds, the "10/20 rule.” Ask lifeguards to count or track the swimmers in their zones and pay particular attention to weak or struggling swimmers. To avoid becoming complacent, lifeguards should regularly change their scanning patterns.  


    Risk Research Bulletin: Preventing Drowning From Underwater Breath-Holding
    World Health Organization’s Fact Sheet on Drowning
    American Red Cross Lifeguard Management Manual
    United States Lifeguard Standards