top of page

The Definitive Guide To Lifeguard Training Course Preparation

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Jump To Section:

lifeguard making a rescue

The Appeal of Lifeguarding

Lifeguarding is a respected profession that offers competitive compensation and a dynamic work environment. With a noticeable shortage of lifeguards nationwide, those who pursue and obtain certification find themselves in a position of high demand.

Lifeguard LI's Training Guide

Lifeguard Practice Test

Embarking on lifeguard training requires preparation and understanding. Lifeguard LI provides a thorough guide to assist prospective lifeguards in their journey towards certification.

Post-Certification Insights

For individuals who have successfully completed their lifeguard certification, it's natural to inquire about the subsequent steps and daily responsibilities. We invite you to explore our detailed article, "A Day in the Life of a Lifeguard," to gain insights into the daily operations and duties of a certified lifeguard.

How To Sign Up For A Lifeguard Course

The first thing you'll have to do when attempting to become a lifeguard is choosing which certification program to take. You should check with potential employer to see which organizations training programs they accept, but the most popular programs are:

The American Red Cross

The Red Cross is one of the oldest and most trusted certification programs in the country. They are the premier option for lifeguard certification due to their universal acceptance and wide variety of course offerings. You can sign up for a course here.

Ellis & Associates

Ellis & Associates Lifeguard training program is recognized in many parts of the United States and a well respected organization. Ellis & Associates is known for many “firsts” within the aquatics industry, including the development of the 10/20 Protection standard (scanning), the inclusion of in-water rescue breathing technology, Supplemental Emergency Oxygen Support, and AED training as a part of the lifeguard certification curriculum. Find an Ellis course here.

StarGuard Elite

StarGuard ELITE (SGE) is an aquatic risk prevention agency that is internationally recognized for its elite training, certification, and consulting programs. You can sign up for one of their courses here.

If you are in the Long Island area, you can sign up for a Lifeguard Certification Class here

Studying and Preparation

lifeguard trainee studying for lifeguard course

You've chosen the perfect training program, now its time to study and prepare for the course. The lifeguard training program consists of water rescue practice and land-based emergency skills training. Prior to the first day of class you may be required to complete an online aspect of the course. This will benefit you greatly as it will prepare you for the in-person course. If you fail to complete the online portion of the program you will not be allowed to continue in the course so check if an option portion is required for the specific program you signed up for.

Below we will go into the specific aspects of the course that you will need to be prepared for.

What To Bring to the Lifeguard Class

Throughout the lifeguard training course you will be in the water just as much as you are out of the water. The course typically flows in a video-lecture-skills practice sequences. This means you will be in and out of the water several times during the day. Factors to consider when preparing what to bring to class are air temperature, water temperature, whether it will be raining or sunny and even the temperature of the classroom.

What to Bring:

- A towel

- Swimsuit

- Goggles (optional)

- Sunscreen

- Water bottle

- Lunch/snacks

- Pen and paper for taking notes during lectures

- A positive attitude!

Depending on the factors listed above, you may want to bring extras of certain items based on weather conditions or the length of the class.

Lifeguard Course Prerequisites (Pretest)

Age Verification & Identification

On the first day you should arrive in a bathing suit prepared to swim right away. However, the first portion of the pretest will be the verification of your age and identification. You must be at least 15 years old on the last day of the class to be a valid age. Acceptable form of identifications would be a drivers license, permit, passport, school ID, library card or other government issued identification. You should have proof with a photo and age. A copy would be acceptable if you did not have an original.

lifeguard course participant swimming pretest

Distance Swim

Its time to get in the water! Expect to swim at least 300 yards for a pool lifeguard certification and up to 500 continuous yards to obtain a waterfront/beach lifeguard certification. You will be expected to swim the entire portion without stopping, walking in the shallow end or holding onto the wall will result in failing the pretest. The good news is that the distance portion of the course is untimed, so work on your stamina and form over speed training. You will be allowed to perform the swim with goggles, which I highly recommend! Being able to see underwater will allow you to see where you're going, prevent eye irritation and make you more comfortable. You are allowed to use two strokes: Front Crawl (freestyle) or breast stroke. Any combination of the two is acceptable, but you should familiarize yourself in the strokes so that you perform them correctly. Strokes like side stroke, backstroke and doggy paddle are unacceptable. DO NOT show up to the pretest and perform a doggy paddle with your face out of the water, this is a sure-fire formula to failing the pretest.

Treading Water

Next you will be expected to tread water for 2 minutes without using your arms. You should stay away from the side of the pool and have your hands tucked under your armpits. There are several types of kicks you can perform to stay afloat during the treading water, including a flutter kick (freestyle) or frog kick (breaststroke). I highly recommend doing the rotary kick, which is moving your legs like an eggbeater, so that each leg is moving in a different direction. Timing is key! When one leg is kicking outwards, the other leg should be kicking inwards.

Timed Event (Brick Dive)

Here, you will be required to retrieve a 10-pound brick from a depth of 7 feet. First, you need to swim for 20 yards from one end of the pool, drop below the water surface, retrieve the brick and swim back to the starting point. The tricky part is keeping both hands on the brick and using only your legs form movement. Lastly, you will be required to exit the pool without using a ladder. The time limit for this test is 1 minute, and 40 seconds. Goggles are not allowed for this portion of the pretest.

lifeguard performing water rescue

Rescue Skills

When an emergency strikes, you need to be ready and prepared to handle it. Depending on the particular scenario, you will be required to:

- Perform a head-up or face-down rescue for drowning victims.

- Assess water conditions such as depth, currents, etc., before performing any returns.

- Clear an area around yourself of people during emergencies so that there is space available.

- Use rescue equipment in a safe manner.

- Assist swimmers quickly by knowing the best way to approach distressed swimmers and determining the best method to enter water based on depth and position.


CPR class students practicing chest compressions

CPR stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. As a lifeguard this is one of the most critical skills you must learn. This act of chest compressions and breaths has been shown to be a critical lifesaving technique that lifeguards must be proficient in. Be sure to review these skills prior to the course so that you are comfortable and confident.


If an accident occurs, you need to recognize when someone needs help so as not to worsen their condition. Being aware of possible hazards in or around water, such as dangerous currents or sharp rocks underwater, can help prevent accidents. You can spot a swimmer going into dangerous territory and warn them before doing something hazardous.

Efficiently and effectively dealing with emergencies is a crucial skill you need to learn as a lifeguard. There could be times when an accident happens despite your best efforts, so knowing what to do in such situations can help reduce the severity of injuries sustained by swimmers. First aid emergency you will be expected to know how to respond to include, but are not limited to, cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, puncture wounds, heart attack, stroke, diabetic emergencies or bone-related injuries.


At the end of the course, you will be expected to complete two written exams and in-water skills scenarios in order to pass the course and receive your certification.


The CPR/AED exam is a 40 question multiple choice test. Each choice will have option A, B, C or D. You need to score a grade of 80% or better, which means you will be able to get 8 questions wrong and pass. There are two different versions of the exam, if you fail once you will have a chance to go over your answers and review with your instructor, then take the other version. If you fail both versions you will fail the course.

Lifeguarding Exam

The Lifeguarding exam is a 35 question multiple choice test. Each choice will have option A, B, C or D. You need to score a grade of 80% or better, which means you will be able to get 7 questions wrong and pass. There are two different versions of the exam, if you fail once you will have a chance to go over your answers and review with your instructor, then take the other version. If you fail both versions you will fail the course.


This is a timed scenario, not to exceed 1 minute and 30 seconds for the water rescue and extrication (with an assisting lifeguard who will bring the backboard) and the primary assessment with two ventilations, followed by 3 minutes of one-rescuer CPR. The rescuing or assisting lifeguard must provide 2 ventilations within the 1 minute, 30 seconds. The rescuing lifeguard must start CPR chest compressions just after the ventilations and continue with one-rescuer CPR.


This is a team scenario where you will be expected to work with other rescuers and demonstrate clear communication and critical thinking ability while providing the appropriate care as a part of a team of multiple rescuers.

The Night Before (and Morning of)

man sleeping

You should get a good night sleep and consume a healthy dinner with protein, carbohydrates and fats to give you energy for the day ahead. Remember, hydrations actually starts the day before, so make sure you drink plenty of water. One of the biggest mistakes I see candidates make is consuming a large breakfast right before class, thinking we will ease into the course. Don't expect to be watching videos and relaxing when you get to class, you will quickly be in the pool performing the distance swim and other prerequisites. Be ready!


You now know what to expect from you lifeguard training course. I am excited for you to join the ranks of one of the best jobs in the world! Whether you intend to work at a country club, summer camp, town pool ,waterpark or beachfront, you are accepting a huge responsibility and could one day save a life. This is just the beginning for you, as a lifeguard you will be higher trained and prepared to assist during an emergency than 75% of the population.

To me, your level of maturity and leadership responsibility are attributes I look for when passing a lifeguard candidate with the same level of importance as your swim ability and skills competence. Show up to class on time, be attentive and an active participant. Lifeguards are vocal and must have a commanding presence at the pool or beach. Your instructor should be looking at all of these intangible qualities during the training course to make sure you are a high-quality candidate.

You may also be wondering what is expected of a lifeguard. That’s why I wrote another whole article for certified lifeguards. To learn about lifeguard qualifications and observations, you can read my article about how the World Health Organization describes lifeguards here.

Remember, be prepared, always be training and stay safe!

lifeguard prep course

Frequently Asked Questions

How old do I have to be to become a lifeguard?

The American Red Cross Training program accepts students who are at least 15 years old on the last day of the course.

How many laps is 300 yards?

6 laps in a standard 25 yard pool. A lap means swimming to one end of the pool, turning around and swimming back to where you started. A "length" is swimming from one end of the pool to the other (and not swimming back). If you count in lengths you would need to complete 12 lengths.

Should I bring lunch to class?

It is recommend that you bring lunch to class. Breaks are structured in a way that you get enough time to relax and recover from the previous activity, but it would be difficult to return on time if you had to leave to get lunch. Check with you instructor prior to the class to see if this would be a possibility.

Can you be a lifeguard if you wear glasses?

You can wear glasses as a pool lifeguard, however, in order to be a beach or waterfront lifeguard you will be required to have at least 20/40 vision in one eye, without corrective lenses.

What do I wear to lifeguard training?

For women, it is recommended to wear a modest one piece bathing suit. For men, it is recommended to wear an above-the-knee bathing suit that isn't too baggy. You will be performing a distance swim and vigorous rescue skills, wearing appropriate attire will allow you to complete the tasks to the best of your ability.

What happens if I fail the lifeguard prerequisites (pretest)

You must pass all portions of the pre-test in order to continue your candidacy for certification. If you do no pass the pre-test, you will be refunded $300 of your course fee.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning means you will take a portion of the course online prior to the in-person sessions. You will complete the online portion on your own time, at your own pace.

What certifications will I receive when I pass the lifeguard course?

You will receive a 2-year certification in lifeguard, CPR, AED and first aid.

I already learned CPR, do I have to attend that portion of the lifeguard course?

Yes, lifeguard course participants must still successfully complete all portions of the training. The CPR and AED portions of the class are integrated into the program and flow within throughout the course.

Long Island has an extensive waterfront and is home to countless pools. Now, you can play your part in safeguarding the area and live your lifelong dream of being a lifeguard by taking a certification course with Lifeguard LI. We offer lifeguard training to help you get certified and join the ranks of highly skilled rescuers. Sign up for lifeguard training now and get hands-on training with us.


Commenting has been turned off.

Get Our Free CPR Guide

Hey, I'm Steve Grella, founder of Lifeguard LI. It is my mission to teach every capable person CPR and lifesaving skills. My only question is, do you have what it takes to save a life?


About Our Founder

Steve Grella is a father of two young boys. He is a Police Detective, EMT, lifeguard trainer and swim instructor, who brings over 20 years of knowledge and expertise in safety and service. He has dedicated his life to educating students in vital lifesaving training and now strives to provide expert resources to arm you with the skills and training to one day save a life if called upon.

bottom of page