Organizations that offer beach lifeguard training are not as common as those that offer pool training. The American Red Cross, the YMCA, and many other providers of lifeguard certifications do not offer programs tailored to beach or ocean environments. The typical Lifeguarding course will not give you a certification in “surf” or ocean rescue lifeguarding that is required of beach lifeguards. Oceanfront courses can be much more demanding than the average course but if you’re up for the challenge, earning a certification in beach lifeguarding will be well worth it. The skills you will learn will make pool lifeguarding look easy and your ability to perform in a surf environment will make you an attractive candidate to potential employers.
When looking for a program, it’s a good idea to find a course that is certified by the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). This nonprofit organization provides a high benchmark for surf lifeguarding and is a good way to measure potential training courses. You can find a list of USLA certified lifeguard agencies on their website.
Beach lifeguard training courses often have pre-requisite testing that candidates must pass to be eligible for the course. This examination might include a number of the following tests:
- A long-distance swim to measure endurance in the water, often around 500 meters within a time limit of 10 minutes
- An object retrieval dive
- A timed run short-distance and/or long-distance run to test endurance on land. The short run might be about a quarter mile and the long-distance run could be a full mile.
Once you’ve passed the course and have been hired as a beach lifeguard, don’t be surprised when the training does not end there. Guards are usually required to attend in-service training sessions on a regular basis which will continue to develop both physical fitness and knowledge of lifeguarding techniques. Some skills may be honed on a weekly schedule and others only monthly.
The physical training sessions might include:
- A long-distance run and possibly sprints
- A long-distance swim
- Paddles in a kayak or a paddleboard
- Weight training to maintain strength
The skills section of the training sessions may focus on various areas of lifeguard expertise such as:
- Practice of rescue techniques
- Review of material in First Aid and CPR training courses as well as methods for coping with victim injuries, such as spinal damage
- Practice of scanning and patron surveillance techniques
- Review of safety procedures and proper use of ocean lifeguarding equipment such as all terrain vehicles, rescue boards, buoys, kayaks, paddleboards, masks, fins, snorkels, etc.
- Knowledge of unsafe water conditions such as rip tides and dangerous wildlife
If you’d like to get an idea of some specific beach lifeguard training program requirements, read our pages on lifeguard certification in South Carolina and New Jersey and check out the links in the Resources section of each to get an idea of two states with rigorous ocean rescue programs.