What Every Lifeguard Desperately Wants You To Know







What Every Lifeguard Desperately Wants You to Know

Skyler Kane

Four summers. That’s how long I’ve been a full time outdoor lifeguard at community pools that families and kids alike just adore. That’s not even to mention the two years of guarding at indoor pools during the school year. Basically, I’ve got my finger on the pulse of lifeguard culture and everything we love and hate about the general public.

Yes, I Have Customer Service Experience

Look, I’m not saying that guards are on par with retail workers, and I’m also not saying this applies to every guard (there’s a distinct difference between a real guard and a guard certified body on the pool deck), but after how many people have come up to me and both asked simple questions or yelled at me I can definitely say I know how to handle people professionally. It’s frustrating to know that people just picture me sitting in a chair, not interacting with anyone, when I spent three years (my most recent summer was spent at a different pool) explaining to angry patrons about why our pool does not allow any form of life jackets.

We Are Not Babysitters

One of my favorite stories took place at my old pool that had two little kiddie slides. One child was breaking rule after rule and, as a lifeguard, I had to keep enforcing our rules. During this, I heard a woman, presumably the mother, say to a man I assume was her husband that, “She is not [the child]’s babysitter.”

Dear random woman, you are absolutely right. I am not. In fact, what I was doing there in that moment, was your job.

Lifeguards are a last resort, safety measure. Our job is to be scanning for safety and drowning risks, especially at a pool like my old one where an average day has several hundred patrons. Small children should not be tossed into the water with the confidence that the lifeguards will watch them. First off, lifeguards are not gods. They’re not perfect. And you have no idea how well trained these guards are (I say from experience, it differs from pool to pool. If you ever get a chance to ask a guard, ideally a guard off duty and not currently at their current workplace, about their training, you can get a good idea how safe the pool actually is). We shouldn’t spend our entire time up on the stands enforcing tiny rules repeatedly to the same unsupervised children. That takes away our focus from safety.

We Are Also Not Baywatch Or The Slow Motion Running Guards You See On TV

It needed to be said. I’m just saying, as cute as Zac Efron is, they never said the word ‘certification’ ONCE in the Baywatch remake.

Safety Breaks are For the Guards, and Therefore Also You

Safety breaks may or may not be a concept you’re familiar with, not every pool does them, but they’re short breaks (usually between 10-15min) where the pool is cleared and the guards can come down. These breaks are usually on the hour because it is unsafe for a guard to up for over an hour without a break. This is because, especially in heat, they can become fatigued or need to go to the bathroom or need water or anything that can cause them to become distracted. A distracted guard is not safe for the patrons. However, it’s also just good for the guard themself, especially in high heat. I say this as a guard who has had to help get a fellow guard off the stand when they passed out from heat stroke.

We Only Have So Much Power

Please, don’t expect a lifeguard be able to give you every answer or have the power to make any exception. One, there’s a good chance your guard is between the ages of 16-18, it might be their first job, and it is very likely all they know of are pool rules that they are required to enforce. If you disagree with a pool rule, the lifeguard has no power to change it, so they will repeat a script like answer that they can give and then direct you to their manager, or maybe a head guard, if that is not satisfactory to you. They also do this because a lifeguard who is on the stand and actively scanning the water cannot hold a long conversation because their focus is the water, not your beef with our life jacket policy (yes, I’m still traumatized by that policy).

How to Tell If Your Pool Is Safe

I mentioned earlier that pool safety really does differ from pool to pool. I’ve worked at several pools of various safety levels. If you have the chance to talk to a guard, here are some things to ask: How often do you practice rescues and EAPs (Emergency Action Plans)? If it’s a summer guard, What pre-season training did you have? How well do they monitor chemicals? You can even outright ask how confident they are in their coworkers.

If you don’t know a guard to ask (and, personally, I might not give an honest answer if I’m clocked in and at work so asking a working guard might not be reliable), here are some things you can keep an eye out for: Is there head moving, showing active scanning of the whole area? Are the guards rotating or getting safety breaks every hour? How attentive is their posture? Can they quickly explain some of the rules and the reasons behind the rules? When you’re talking to them, do they keep watching the water or do they give you all of their attention (they should still be watching the water so if they’re not making eye contact with you that’s good).

Pools can be fun places to enjoy and to work. We all just need to remember, and not just at pools, that employees are fallible and imperfect humans and that it's best if we treat them as such. Just be kind, and watch your own kids, please.