Tips & Tricks for Realistic Lifeguard Training

In-service training and live drills are an essential part of making sure you have an effective, rescue-ready aquatics staff. It is especially important that these trainings are realistic, as lifeguards need to know what to expect—and how they might feel—if an aquatic event were to happen. Below are some things to consider that will help your lifeguard training be more realistic:

Realistic Skill Building
When participating in training, utilize a real-life victim so that lifeguards can realistically practice their skills. Use the real-life victim for the extrication process and for the first round of CPR, at a minimum. By using a real-life victim, lifeguards will be able to actually feel for a pulse, practice managing an airway and practice placing hands on the victim appropriately. After the first round of CPR, switch out and use a mannequin. This will allow the lifeguards to practice the depth and speed of their compressions. Often times, lifeguards will benefit from multiple rounds with a live victim as it will help them practice for if things go wrong. Therefore, repeat this process as needed.

Practice for the Unexpected
During an aquatic event, it is possible that something will go wrong. Therefore, it is critical that during training, lifeguards practice for the unexpected. This will help them think on their feet and know what backup plans are available to them. Some things to consider are:

  • During practice, are you using all equipment (AED, BVM, O2)?
  • If you have practice equipment, is it the same model as the real equipment?
    • If not, are there any differences that lifeguards will need to know?
  • Simulate during practice, equipment not working or not arriving in time. Because lifeguards learn by the book, it is helpful for them to also execute when things don’t go as planned or by the book. Challenge them to work together with other responding guards and staff to complete a successful rescue and on-deck care in those unexpected times. Practice seeing the rescue and care through to the end despite broken equipment.

AED pads are to be applied to the bare skin. To simulate reality during drills, have lifeguards practice cutting away clothing prior to applying pads. Practice with victims of all genders to avoid hesitation from an inexperienced guard. Consider having the real-life victim wear an additional t-shirt or bathing suit top. This repetition of skill will build muscle memory for lifeguards.

EAP Team
During an aquatic event, your organization may have assigned roles in the EAP to non-aquatic staff. Have all responding staff practice their skills for better execution as a team in an actual event. Don’t have them just respond, have them practice their role. This is especially important for responding staff trained in First Aid, CPR and O2. Non-aquatic responding staff can:

  • Set up the AED and O2 and then announce to the lifeguards when the equipment is ready
  • Open up the crash bag and hand guards the Bag Valve Mask
  • Ask the lifeguards how they can help and stand by with gloves to wait for further commands or instructions from lifeguards to assist
  • Communicate with and/or redirect members away from the pool
  • Call 911

If your organization has found another way to make your lifeguard training realistic, we would love to hear it. Please email with your tips and tricks.