Lifeguarding is a skill that appeals to people for many reasons, including those who want a fun and active summer job as well as parents who would like to learn some water safety and lifesaving skills to keep their kids safe at the beach. Taking a certified lifeguard class is also helpful in keeping your loved ones safe in the backyard pool. You never know when someone’s life may be at risk.
To become a certified lifeguard, most states require the lifeguard course (including classroom hours as well as practical skills training) and a certification in basic first aid, CPR, and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). An AED is a computerized device that can be used to evaluate a person’s heart rhythm and then deliver an electric shock if the heart fails to beat, forcing the heart rhythm to return to normal.
Lifeguard training helps people gain lifesaving skills, along with personal and professional skills such as clear communication, dealing with emergencies in a calm manner, learning to work effectively as part of a team, and more.
Generally speaking, professional lifeguards watch over pools, beaches, water parks, and other aquatic areas to maintain safety and keep the beach area clean. Other duties may include leading swim lessons, monitoring weather reports, and conducting some light office duties. The average pay nationwide for a professional lifeguard is around $12 per hour.
Should an individual choose to become a lifeguard, a certification course includes a combination of classroom and poolside training. Keep in mind that specific criteria must be met before students are accepted into the program. Here are our top options for certified lifeguard training courses.
The 5 Best Lifeguard Certification Programs of 2021
Best Overall: Lifeguard-Pro
Lifeguard-Pro is an internationally recognized nonprofit training institution that offers one-on-one and group in-person training sessions. Students can select the date, time, and location that work best for them.
The program is licensed in all 50 states to offer a certified lifeguard course. With it comes access to instructors in more than 1,500 U.S. cities and more than 30 countries. Lifeguard-Pro offers classes in lifeguarding, CPR, first aid, and water safety for individuals, businesses, government organizations, and the military.
Lessons are available via a home study course, combined with in-person training sessions led by a local training instructor. Offerings include swimming pool certifications, deep and shallow water certifications, lifeguard instructors, affordable recertification classes, and more.
The most popular option is the Lifeguard Swimming Pool course, which certifies students to oversee pools that are no deeper than 12 feet. It includes American Heart Association classes in CPR and first aid.
To get your certification from Lifeguard-Pro, you must successfully complete each course (taught by an in-person instructor) as well as the final written exams in lifeguarding, CPR, and first aid with a score of 90% or higher.
If you are under age 18, your parent or legal guardian must fill out a form to sign off on you taking the course(s) you choose.
The costs for training at Lifeguard-Pro vary depending on which class you take. The Home-Study Course is about $225, the In-Person Training is around $225, and getting recertified is roughly $99.
Best Budget: Local YMCA
While the YMCA focuses on youth development, the nonprofit organization offers a certified lifeguarding course for students who need to learn the skills and knowledge to prevent, recognize, and respond to aquatic emergencies.
This 30-hour, in-person course teaches students how to respond to breathing and cardiac emergencies, injuries, and other medical situations while waiting for emergency medical services. Upon completion of the course, the YMCA will issue a certificate for lifeguarding, CPR, AED, and first aid, which is valid for two years.
The YMCA also offers a blended, certified lifeguard training program that consists of seven hours of online lessons and 23 hours of in-person training. The prerequisites are the same for the in-person program and the blended structure.
The cost for the YMCA Certified Lifeguard Course is about $225 for members and around $250 for non-members. Depending on your local YMCA’s fees, pricing may vary.
Best for Managers: The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross has been a leader in the industry for years. In addition to its water safety lessons, the organization offers a special course for those who manage lifeguards.
The three-and-a-half-hour Lifeguard Management Online Course allows managers to work at their own pace and schedule and start the lesson anytime. It also helps train aquatic managers to effectively oversee lifeguards, with the ultimate goal of keeping patrons, staff, and facilities safe.
The course is highly interactive and includes video lessons and activities based on real-life scenarios. Participants who pass the course will receive a two-year certification.
There are no prerequisites for the course, so people can take it even if they don’t have a lifeguarding background. Individuals who plan to take the lesson may work at a variety of aquatic locations, including municipal or seasonal pools or year-round operations.
The Lifeguard Management Online Course is about $120, but prices may vary depending on your geographic area.
Best Local Community: Teach America To Swim
Like other certified lifeguard training programs, Teach America To Swim aims to provide top-notch training in recognizing, preventing, and responding to emergencies that can occur in and around the water. The organization is passionate about swimming safety and is committed to a high standard of teaching while making learning fun for students.
Founded by Sabrina Zervas-Keller, a teacher who was concerned about the number of children in her class who couldn’t swim, she began working to train safety instructors to teach swim lessons. So committed were the founders of Teach American To Swim that they began auditing existing swimming instruction programs (to improve training) in local communities.
Now, Teach America To Swim works with local schools, communities, parks and recreation departments, youth camps, and YMCAs to help them improve their swimming safety programs.
The organization uses the American Red Cross curriculum in its online and in-person training sessions, and the lifeguard program enables students to become American Red Cross-certified. The online portion of the course is required for students before they attend the in-person training.
Features of the program include a lifeguard training course, a lifeguard training kit, and a certification in first aid, CPR, and AED. The lifeguard training lessons offered by Teach America To Swim include certifications for shallow swimming pools, deep pools, waterfronts, water parks, and youth camps.
The cost for the certified lifeguard program is approximately $300 to $375, depending on where you live.
Best for Open Water: United States Lifesaving Association (USLA)
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) is a nonprofit, professional association of beach lifeguards that works with businesses to train and hire open-water lifeguards. The primary aim of the USLA is to reduce the incidence of death and injury in open-water beaches and swimming areas in the U.S. by establishing national lifeguard standards and training programs.
Becoming an ocean/surf open-water lifeguard involves potentially hazardous and challenging conditions. Compared to a swimming pool, the obstacles of becoming an ocean lifeguard include a much larger number of swimmers and beachgoers and more dangerous rescue situations. The job requires a high level of physical stamina.
Individuals will need to find a local USLA-Certified agency, which will post recruitment dates and certification testing information. The prerequisites for an open-water lifeguard training program may vary depending on where you apply for employment, but a timed swim test is usually required.
Costs may differ, depending on which agency you choose.
What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Certified Lifeguard?
In most states you need to meet certain minimum criteria to be trained as a certified lifeguard for deep or shallow water or a pool:
- You must be at least 15 years of age.
- You must be able to swim 300 yards, (six laps in a 25-yard pool) continuously while demonstrating a rhythmic breath technique.
- You must be able to tread water for two minutes using only your legs.
- You must complete a timed swim event that includes diving, surfacing, and retrieving a weighted object.
- You must be able to exit the water without the use of a ladder or stairs.
The prerequisites for open-water lifeguard certification differ from state-to-state and depend on which certification you're pursuing. There are different requirements for an ocean or surf open-water lifeguard, compared to a lifeguard who works at a lake or another non-surf beach.
What Can You Expect From the Lifeguard Certification Test?
The lifeguard certification test includes a written, multiple-choice exam, and most classes require an 80% grade to pass. You can take the exam again if you fail. After that, a swimming test is given to prove that you can meet the physical demands of being a lifeguard. Expect to tread water, demonstrate proper breathing techniques, and perform specific swim events that may or may not be timed.
How Long Does a Lifeguard Certification Last?
The American Red Cross certification for lifeguards must be renewed every two years, and that includes first aid, CPR, and AED training. Some institutions offer certificates that must be renewed annually, so be sure to inquire when you are looking into training.
I’m Already Certified in CPR. Do I Still Need to Do This Training to Become a Lifeguard?
Most lifeguard certification programs require CPR, first aid, and AED training as part of the completion requirements. If you’ve already taken CPR or first aid courses, you’ll still benefit from a refresher.
How We Chose the Best Lifeguard Certification Classes
In selecting the best lifeguard certification classes, it was important to consider whether the course was legitimate; in other words, does the institution qualify to issue valid, legal lifeguard certifications that will enable students to legally work as lifeguards? Next, we selected programs that offer flexible scheduling and specific benefits, such as blended courses with online and in-person classes.
We included our top picks for programs that offer a variety of training courses, including shallow water, deep water, and open-water training. Finally, we looked to see whether all of the mandatory elements for certification (required by most states) were offered, such as CPR, AED, and first aid classes.