The Lifeguard’s General Duties

A lifeguard, whether at the beach or the pool, has fundamental duties and usually works as part of a team, though in some places the lifeguards can sometimes be forced to work on their own.  Duties include:

  • Respect the rules in order to anticipate problems / injuries
  • Keep focused observation of the obligation and its users in order to anticipate problems (this will allow the operator to intervene with a drowning prevention program) and to identify an emergency quickly.
  • Controlling the use of other equipment when assigned to this task (eg, water slides or any other activity taking place)
  • Rescues and initiate other emergency measures if necessary
  • Give immediate relief in case of injury to a swimmer or other casualty
  • Communicate with swimmers and other users to help accomplish the above tasks
Lifeguard Flags

Image courtesy Wikimedia

Lifeguards may have other secondary functions such as cleaning, filing documents, verification of pool chlorine and pH levels or acting as a point of general information. It is important not to allow the rescuers’ secondary responsibilities to interfere with their primary responsibilities.

Concentrated viewing

Lifeguards have the primary duty to monitor the area for which they are responsible. To achieve this objective, the rescuer has to obtain an optimal position to observe the audience. This is usually from a high position – which can be a chair, shelf, or even the roof of a vehicle. This allows maximum exposure in the monitored area and can facilitate communication between them and their team as well as swimmers.

Some areas use lifeguard platforms or portable chairs that can be moved to the position. This may help to deal with the changes from a specific activity, of taking into account the prevailing wind direction, or it may simply allow the lifeguards to get closer to the water at low tide on a beach.

The “primary” or the tower can also serve as a repository for the lifeguard, keeping close to hand their rescue communications and equipment. It can also act as a point recognized by members of the public as a place for assistance or to find a lifeline. For this reason, lifeguard posts are often marked by a flag or flags to mark the location for the public as well as to provide information on the conditions for bathers and swimmers.

Other options, depending on location, can include patrolling the shore on foot; allowing a closer interaction with the public, and the ability to provide face to face advice and feelings of safety. Some guards may even monitor on open water (like the sea or a large water park), where life rafts and other boats in the water are an option.

Life saving equipment

The equipment used by lifeguards may vary depending on location and the specific conditions encountered, but some equipment is relatively universal, such as a whistle to attract attention of members of the public and items to assist in first aid and rescue .

After determining that a swimmer is in trouble, the goal is to help in a way that will not result in a threat to the life of the lifeguard or others. Techniques such as using a stick, throwing a life jacket, walking to the victim, using flotation devices or craft, etc. As a last resort, rescue can be had by swimming directly to the victim – the most dangerous option.

In addition to these basic lifesaving techniques, some units are trained in rescue skills in deep water, such as diving and rescue, as well as using rappelling and cliff rescue equipment.

Lifeguards will be able to render first aid and have a well stocked first aid kit. They may have advanced tools beyond basic needs, such as medical oxygen, a resuscitator, a defibrillator, or AED card for spinal immobilization. Some are trained emergency medical technicians (EMT).

Effective communication is essential for guards and many choose to use whistles, radios, megaphones or even flares.

A more traditional method of communication with the public is through the use of colored flags, which rise above the area to inform members of the public of safety issues or to convey readiness.  The flags pictured here are the more common, standard flags in use worldwide.

Most often, lifeguards use a whistle at the swimming pool (public and private).  The following signals are used by a lifeguard with a whistle:

  • A short beep – used to draw the attention of a swimmer.
  • 2 shots short – used to draw the attention of a fellow lifeguard.
  • Three short blasts – used to tell a colleague that a lifesaving emergency is in place, we must act.
  • A long shot – used to alert swimmers to the pool must pass, this could be because the pool is closed or an emergency situation occurs very significant for helpers to clean the pool.