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Develop Attentive and Effective Lifeguards

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
Training guidelines to reduce the risk of accidental drownings at your school

Drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional death worldwide, and well-trained, alert lifeguards are the primary defense against accidental drowning. To promote lifeguard attentiveness at your K-12 school, college, or university, consider the following actions.

Emergency Preparedness Training

Most lifeguards have little hands-on experience responding to emergencies, so your institution should require consistent training to keep skills fresh. Additionally, lifeguards often need regular emergency response instruction to maintain certifications. Aquatics experts recommend emergency preparedness training on:

  • Recognizing victims
  • Activating the emergency action plan
  • Performing rescues
  • Resuscitating drowning victims

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 the required time might be assigned more training or scanning practice to improve response times.


Even with well-trained lifeguards, 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 to 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. Assign lifeguards zones. As a guideline, try to assign each guard to an area that can be effectively scanned in 10 seconds and where victims can be reached in about 20 seconds. This is known as the “10/20 rule.” Ask lifeguards to count or track swimmers in their zones and pay particular attention to weak or struggling swimmers. To avoid complacency, ensure lifeguards regularly change scanning patterns.
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