What Does a Head Lifeguard Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a Lifeguard

Maritsa Patrinos/The Balance

Head lifeguards are appointed to provide direction to lifeguards at aquatics centers. They answer to aquatics managers, who are responsible for overseeing all activities at an aquatics center. Because aquatics managers cannot directly manage all the center’s employees all the time and rarely have managers underneath them, they direct lifeguards to assist them, especially when they are performing other duties.

A head lifeguard may perform lifeguard duties, as required, to ensure swimmer safety at public pools and beaches. They may perform rescues requiring the ability to swim and administer life-saving techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Head Lifeguard Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Assist the aquatics manager in training, supervising, and evaluating lifeguard and pool attendant staff.
  • Create weekly work schedules and station rotation schedules for pool staff.
  • Watch the water and surrounding area to spot swimmers in distress and people acting unsafely.
  • Assist in performing first aid according to the standards established by the American Red Cross and American Heart Association.
  • Ensure that all rules and regulations are adhered to.
  • Engage in basic lifeguard duties, such as adding chemicals to the pool and cleaning the restrooms, as required.
  • Assist the aquatics manager in providing orientation and training for pool staff.

Head lifeguards perform the same duties as a lifeguard and also provide direction to lifeguards. They watch the water and the surrounding area to ensure people stay safe and follow the rules. When individuals act unsafely, lifeguards tell them to cease their reckless behavior.

Because they can delegate tasks, head lifeguards often avoid some of the less desirable tasks of a lifeguard job such as treating the pool, picking up garbage, and cleaning the restrooms. Sometimes they perform these tasks to show the other lifeguards that they do not consider themselves above such work.

Head Lifeguard Salary

Head lifeguards can expect to earn a few dollars more per hour than the lifeguards they lead. The pay difference tends to exist because head lifeguards have more experience and stature in the organization.

According to PayScale, head lifeguards earn the following:

  • Median Annual Salary: $21,029 ($10.11/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $44,366 ($21.33/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $17,493 ($8.41/hour)

Source: PayScale.com, 2019

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides salary information for lifeguards, ski patrol, and other recreational service workers as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $22,410 ($10.77/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $34,400 ($16.54/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $17,560 ($8.44/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

The following education, licensing, and experience can increase the chances of getting this job:

  • Education: A bachelor's degree in physical education or a related field may be preferred. Associate's programs include coursework in water safety instruction, rescue training, and CPR.
  • Certification: Licensing such as a Red Cross Lifeguard Certification, as well as other training, is required. Schools that offer lifeguard training certifications tailor their programs to comply with the American Red Cross training standards. The American Red Cross provides online courses for those looking to become certified in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillator (AED), and basic life support (BLS)/CPR for health care. The American Lifeguard Association (ALA) offers on-site training and certifications for qualifying applicants.
  • Experience: Head lifeguards are chosen from among the city’s lifeguards. They have proven themselves trustworthy and ready to lead. In government, it is rare for someone to be promoted without an open competition, so even if an aquatics manager has someone in mind to promote, the hiring process must still be followed. Lifeguards who have been a head lifeguard in other organizations may come in as a head lifeguard, but it's more common for a head lifeguard to be appointed from among the city’s ranks. A strong working relationship between the hiring manager and applicant and demonstrated leadership skills are important.

Head Lifeguard Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you should have the following skills:

  • Leadership skills: The ability to lead others in performing their job properly by having the technical knowledge necessary to give sound instruction, as well as performing the tasks of their staff, as necessary.
  • Physical and mental stamina: The ability to lift heavy rope and equipment for swim meets and other events, as well as perform rescues, administer life-saving techniques, and calmly handle injuries or an individual in distress.
  • Organizational skills: The ability to create and maintain all necessary records such as lifeguard schedules, pool attendance sign-in sheets, and accident reports.
  • Communication skills: The ability to communicate clearly with the aquatics manager, as well as staff members, to ensure aquatics center operations run smoothly so members and guests can enjoy themselves safely.
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to work well with others such as the aquatics manager, staff members, pool maintenance workers, and members for successful pool operations, including special events.

Job Outlook

The BLS does not offer employment outlook information under lifeguards, ski patrol, and other recreational service workers, however, it does provide a high number of employed individuals. As of May 2018, those employed at local government-run facilities totaled 47,820; while those employed by privately run amusement parks and recreation centers numbered 43,240. As memberships to aquatic centers and beaches continue to be popular, there will be a need for lifeguards and those who manage them.

Work Environment

The head lifeguard may work in an indoor or outdoor aquatics center or beach. They may need to enter the water to swim or operate a water vehicle such as a jet ski or boat to perform rescues, which can include dealing with strong water currents or dangerous sea life such as sharks. If sudden changing weather conditions such as lightning storms occur, they will need to direct members and staff to leave the area quickly and seek shelter.

Work Schedule

Hours may vary, depending on the hours of the facility or beach. For an indoor facility, hours are year-round, while outdoor facilities and beaches primarily have hours in the warm summer months, with aquatic centers open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

How to Get the Job


Search for jobs in your community such as at a local pool, YMCA, or athletic center. Guard for Life features a job board where you can search for lifeguard positions in your city and state. Also, check Government Jobs for head lifeguard opportunities in your area.


Building a network of contacts can lead to a job. Join an organization such as the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) or the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) to stay current on lifesaving techniques and other important information, and to meet others in the industry.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in jobs helping others stay safe should consider these similar jobs, along with their median annual salary:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018