How to Become a Surf Lifeguard

Becoming a surf lifeguard is a serious choice. Unlike lifeguarding at a pool the varying water conditions and hazards, as well as an unlimited number of people accessing public beaches, means you may encounter tougher rescue situations and be responsible for watching over more swimmers than a occupancy capped pool. Certification in surf or ocean lifegurding will include training for open water rescues and emergency medical response as well as assisting the public with general information, lost children and enforcing beach regulations.

Step One: Research the Surf Lifeguard Organizations

One of the best places to find a list of all the surf lifesaving organizations in the USA is the United States Lifesaving Association which has a list of all the member associations and a link to each. Most specific associations will list their recruitment dates including application cut off times and certification testing. A number of organizations are part of the City or County infrastructure such as Los Angeles Fire Department or the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, so they will have a very formal hiring process even before the training. 

You may find that the Chief Lifeguard is a firefighter and/or EMT professional so be prepared for a boss who knows exactly what is needed from their employees in regards to behavior and attitude to minimize any life threatening situations.

Understand each organizations application processes, restrictions (age requirements) and training programs, make sure you are aware of all deadlines to apply and the training you will have to undergo before starting the job. 

Step Two: Get Training

Obviously ccean and surf lifeguarding will require you to run on sand and swim through waves, which is a different skill set to being able to quickly run on hard pavement and swim to the other end of a pool. 

You should get comfortable with being able to get through breakers and also swimming in rough conditions. See out guide to "How to swim in open water" for more information.

Running on soft sand can be a lot more strenuous than running on pavement. Make sure you are comfortable running in bare feet and understand the best method for tackling running in sand

Step Three: Enroll in a Certification Course

Now that you know what kind of lifeguarding you want to get into, you need to enroll in a certification course. The American Red Cross is the most well known organization for this, but other organizations such as Ellis and Associates and Nasco Aquatics offer certifications as well. However, the American Red Cross certification is for two years, while Ellis and Nasco is for one. 
Depending on where you get certified and from what company, the course length can vary. Generally, it is between 15 and 30 hours. Some courses are even online! Cost of the courses can vary as well, but you’re looking at between $100 and $300 dollars, generally. 
To be certified and ready to apply, you must pass three tests:
  • Basic Lifeguard Training
  • CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer
  • First Aid
Most courses will include all three certifications as part of their test, but if not, you must get the certifications elsewhere.

Step Four: Pass a Pre Employment Test

In many cases a lifeguard assosication will require you to pre-qualify for a lifeguard academy or employment. 
This will consist of, in almost all cases, of a run and a swim, with a time cap imposed as well as other drills that may include a brick test (retreiving a 10lb brick from the ocean floor), a torpedo rescue, a paddle board rescue and team rescues.
Check the website of the organization to plan to apply to for the outline of their test requirements.

Step Five: Attend a Lifeguard Academy

Larger organisation like the Los Angeles County Fire & Rescue have a lengthy Lifeguard Academy that you need to attend once you pass the pre emplyoment test. These academies will prepare you in all aspects of your job including not only life saving techniques but also public relations and administration. 
You will spend up to 100 hours at the academies and you will most likely be a paid employee at that time, and what is better than being paid to learn?

Step Six: Take Your Job Seriously and Enjoy it

Once you have completed training certification or an academy you will be ready for work. Enjoy this important job and take away the skills that you will continue learning through the summer and apply them to the rest of your year.
Surf Lifeguards also have fantastic opportunities to participate in exchange programs with other countries allowing you to experience a different beach culture while you work!
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