Lifeguard Training FAQs
To become a lifeguard, do I have to have a perfect freestyle?
No. The instructor's manual says "the individual should not be judged on stroke mechanics, but rather on his or her overall demonstration of swimming strength, endurance, comfort in the water and ability to meet the time requirements." The instructor's manual also says that during the continuous swim test you should maintain a body posistion that is nearly horizontal to the surface and demonstrate breath control, but a slight hesitation during breathing is acceptable. You should use an above-water arm recovery for the freestyle (after you pull back, your arms should be out of the water as they go forward to enter the water for another pull).
Your leg action (flutter kick) should contribute to forward momentum.
Do I have to be a fast swimmer?
People in my swimming classes tried the tests and most were within the required times, even some of the students in beginning swimming.
There are two timed swim tests, one for potential lifeguards/waterfront lifeguards and a different one for shallow water attendants.
At De Anza College the lifeguard class is not on a tight schedule like many places that offer a two or three week certification class, so we have the time to:
Before we try the prerequisite swim test(s) we will take time to look at people's swim strokes and make corrections. I expect that most of my students will not be swim team members and will not have been swimming a lot recently. We will start the quarter with first aid and CPR/AED to give people at least two weeks to practice the prerequisite swim tests before we officially take them.
Many people find their initial attempt at the test that involves getting the weight from the bottom is awkward, so we will practice it in advance of the official test.
We can teach you how to do a faster, more effective surface dive before you take the test.
There are a couple of easy ways to climb out of a pool and many hard ways. We will teach you the easy ways.
What if I'm out of shape? People who are taking this class at De Anza to get a lifeguard certification will have time to practice the prerequisite test as we will mostly concentrate on first aid and CPR at the start of the quarter. The full swim test will not be officially given until at least two weeks into the quarter. (No matter which certificates you want to earn, to be able to fully participate in the class and earn a passing grade every student will need the ability to tread water in deep water, including treading water with no hands when their hands are occupied with skills, so we will try the treading water with no hands test the second day of class. We will give coaching as needed.)
The minimum age to become a Red Cross trained lifeguard is 15 years old on or before the last day of class. There is no maximum and the class is great for retirees who want extra income without frying fast food.
Details about the Red Cross prerequisite swim tests:
There are no prerequisite swim tests for basic water rescue.
(The larger of the two De Anza pools, the 'Olympic sized' pool, is 50 meters long by 25 yards wide. A 100 yard swim would be across the width of the big pool and back twice.)
Shallow water lifeguard prerequisite swim tests are:
1. Swim 100 yards continuously, using front crawl (freestyle), breaststroke or a combination of both. Swimming on the back or side is not permitted.
(There is no time limit for this first test. Red Cross rules say you can wear goggles for this part of the test.) The De Anza Olympic-sized pool is 25 yards wide.
2. Tread water for two minutes without support and without stoping, using only your legs. Your hands will be placed under your armpits. Your body position must be near vertical, not horizontal. Your treading is not considered proficient if you swim rather than tread or if your mouth sinks below the surface.
3. Timed Event - Starting in the water, swim 20 yards using front crawl or breaststroke or a combination of both, submerge to depth of 4 to 5 feet, retrieve a 10-pound object, return to the surface, walk or swim 20 yards back to the starting point with the object at the surface of the water, exit the water without using a ladder or steps within 50 seconds.
When you submerge to get the weight some people need only bend over to be able to reach it, some will need to do a surface dive. When we tried this test in swim classes we found that long strides on the walk back was faster for some people than quick bouncing steps. Holding the weight up out of the water, and keeping your arms/elbows out of the water creates less drag and was faster for most people. Since we are not a two week certification class you will have time to try it, (more than once if you need to), before the official test. Red Cross rules do not allow goggles for this part of the test.
Lifeguard prerequisite swim tests are
1. Swim 300 yards continuously, using front crawl (freestyle), breaststroke or a combination of both. Swimming on the back or side is not permitted.
(There is no time limit for this first test. Goggles are allowed.)
2. Tread water for two minutes without support and without stoping, using only your legs. Your hands will be placed under your armpits. Your head must remain above the surface of the water. Your body position must be near vertical, not horizontal. Your treading is not considered proficient if you swim rather than tread or if your mouth sinks below the surface.
3. Timed Event - Starting in the water, swim 20 yards using front crawl or breaststroke (your face may be in or out of the water), surface dive (feet first or head-first) to a depth of 7-10 feet, retrieve a 10-pound object, return to the surface, swim 20 yards back to the starting point with the object, place it on the deck, exit the water without using a ladder or steps within 1 minute, 40 seconds.
For the surface dive, the Red Cross allows either a feetfirst or head first surface dive. The Red Cross requires that you keep both hands on the weight as you swim back to the side and have your face at or near the surface so you are able to get breaths. You can swim on your back using any propellant kick, such as an elementary backstroke kick, sidestroke or a rotary kick (the eggbeater water polo players use). You are not allowed to swim the distance underwater. The time (under one minute, forty seconds) will be complete when you are out of the pool. Red Cross rules do not allow goggles for this part of the test.
The last person to finish the whole prerequisite test, (by far the slowest swimmer in the class) fall quarter 2004 was a 115 pound woman. She ended up with the highest 'A' in the class, earned all the certifications and went on to become a Red Cross Lifeguard Instructor.
Advice for passing the lifeguard swim tests:
Take your time on the 300 yard swim without a time limit. Don't tire yourself out trying to sprint on the first test, and then be too tired for the second one. Red Cross rules say you can wear goggles for the continuous swim, but not during the ten pound weight retrieval.
Our pool is 25 yards across. The weight will be on the bottom at 20 yards. People have gotten so excited they swam past the weight all the way to the wall. Learn from their mistake.
On the surface dive for the weight at 7 feet, avoid the temptation to swim down just far enough to grab it. It's easier and faster to swim to the bottom, grab the weight with both hands, put your feet on
the bottom, and push hard with your legs. If you have enough air, push up to the surface at an angle in the direction you will be returning with the weight. If you feel out of breath, push up to the surface straight. You must keep both hands on the weight for the swim back to the side until you place the weight on the deck.
Before lifeguard candidates take the swim and get the weight test, they should 'clear' their ears (equalize the pressure) before they feel the pressure change. I will describe clearing your ears the first day. Please talk to me personally if you don't understand how to do it, or if it doesn't seem to work when you try it in the water.
The best way to return with the weight is to swim on your back using a whip kick or eggbeater. A sidestroke scissors kick or elementary backstoke whip kick can also work. A flutter kick is probably too slow for most people, but a few of my students have been successful with it.
You will be faster if you are horizontal instead of diagonal in the water. You are more likely to be more horizontal if you hold the weight near the top of your chest, instead of down towards your waist.
You don't want to swim under a lane line by mistake as it will slow you down and can surprise you and cause you to drop the weight, so look back and forth at the lane lines a little as you go.
At the finish, be in the center of the lane. If you are too far to the side you can whack your elbow on the lane line as you do your pushup on the gutter to climb out and that can also slow you down.
Yup, dropping the weight and having to get it from the bottom also slows you down.
Wearing a swim cap makes you faster and keeps hair out of your face.
You will need a partner to be in the water at the finish of the swim to protect your head from hitting the wall.
Don't hyperventilate (multiple, rapid, deep breaths) before you swim under water. You can't store extra oxygen that way, and you can possibly pass out under water.
Waterfront lifeguard (lake, river and non-surf beach lifeguard) prerequisite swim tests are:
1) Swim 550 yards continuously, using front crawl (freestyle), breaststroke or a combination of both. Swimming on the back or side is not permitted.
(There is no time limit for this test and you can wear goggles.)
2) The same treading as for pool lifeguards described above.
3) The same swim and get the weight test as for pool lifeguards described above,
with the same 1 minute forty second time limit.
3) Swim 5 yards, submerge and retrieve three dive rings
placed 5 yards apart in 4 to 7 feet of water,
resurface and swim 5 yards to the side of the pool. (Calm yourself,
these rings will not be ten pound weights,
just dive rings that are heavy enough to sink to the bottom,
like the small plastic covered rings kids play with.)
You must swim underwater the ten yards along the bottom and get all three rings on one breath. (There is no time limit for this test. Red Cross rules say you can't wear goggles for this part.)
The Red Cross used to have a number of other speed/endurance tests, but they were dropped. We still try to pass all the old time tests because employers may ask you to do them and we want you to have the confidence that comes from knowing you can pass most tests given. Most people can't do them at the beginning of class, but with work most can by the end of the quarter. Either way, the old tests don't count for your grade or certification.
Doesn't a lifeguard need a lot of physical strength?
Isn't it difficult to rescue a heavy person who is sinking to the bottom of a pool?
No. Go to: How to rescue a submerged victim
Do lifeguards have to know how to dive?
No. Most of the time a lifeguard will enter the water in other than a dive. A racing dive like they use on a swim team isn't very useful for a lifeguard, since we need to be able to see the victim as we enter and approach them. Sometimes we need to enter extra carefully (in case of a spinal injury victim, for example). You will be taught all the methods of entry.
If I have the time, what can I do to get ready for lifeguard training?
Most people do nothing, but you could work on laps of sidestroke, freestyle with your head up and aim towards being able to tread water with no hands. Try some push-ups on the pool gutters or deck for strength climbing out of the pool.
At De Anza College, lifeguard training offers more certifications at a lower cost than any other local program.
PE 28A includes certification in American Red Cross pool lifeguard training, waterfront lifeguard training AND/or Shallow Water Lifeguard and Basic Water Rescue. At De Anza we can offer certification in any or all of these, to be able to teach rescue skills to people with various levels of swimming skill, as well as to certify lifeguards.
We also offer certification in First Aid; Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for the Professional Rescuer; Automated External Defibrillation; Administering Emergency Oxygen; Epinephrine Auto Injector Administration and Bloodborne Pathogens: Preventing Disease Transmission. (And sometimes we have the time to sneak in an asthma inhaler training as well.)
Graduates of the program who are now head lifeguards, aquatic directors or facility managers come back to help teach the class, give free tutoring and recruit employees because they find De Anza trained guards to be more confident, attentive and more thoroughly trained. Read notes from some of them: Lifeguards trained at De Anza College get jobs
When is lifeguard training offered at De Anza College?
Due to budget problems, lifeguard training will not be offered at De Anza in 2014, but I will be teaching it off campus as time permits.
The De Anza Outdoor Club will be having some pre-requisite swim test and lifeguard skills practice sessions spring quarter for any student, whether they will be taking lifeguard training from me, or just want to see if they can pass the Red Cross (or YMCA) prerequisite lifeguard swim test.
I am leaving the details about previous classes below for reference.
What do students think about the De Anza lifeguard class?
" I really enjoyed all the extra info we were given. There was never a dull moment in this class. Mary is the most thorough and encouraging instructor I have ever had."
"I liked the depth of teaching. I feel I learned the skills to the fullest. The knowledge gained from this class is useful anywhere."
Read more at: P.E. 28A student evaluation comments
see also: How to get an A in lifeguard training
Why take a lifeguard training class?
Some people take a lifeguarding class for fun, exercise, or just for skills they can use the rest of their lives living and playing around water.
You can earn six to ten certifications (see below), more than any other program in the area.
PE 28 A completely fulfills the requirement for area E for your A.A. degree and transfers to U.C. and CSU.
Many students go on to become CPR instructors, especially those planning careers which will require regular certification in CPR. Some become lifeguard instructors. Some take an interest in learning more lifesaving skills and become EMTs, or work towards joining fire or police forces. They tell me the extra time we take on first aid and CPR skills made their advanced classes easier.
This class is a great way to beef up a resume for a physical therapy assistant or personal fitness trainer, because lots of fitness centers have pool activities and need employees with varied skills. If you are the lifeguard or shallow water attendant, the facility doesn't need to hire one to work when you are doing physical therapy or aqua-exercise classes in the pool.
We've had Girl Scout Leaders take the class so that they won't have any more trouble finding lifeguards for trips and events. (Yes, many are over 30 years old, and they became lifeguards. We've had graduates in their forties, fifties and sixties as well.)
The odds are if you want a lifeguard job, you'll get one if you are successful in this class. Many De Anza lifeguard training graduates are now pool managers, aquatics coordinators or head guards and they come back to the class to help teach and to recruit employees they know will be better trained than from other programs. (One graduate owns his own swim school.) Lifeguards trained at De Anza College get jobs
Lifeguard jobs at movie sets are ... rare, but below are a couple of pictures of just such a gig:
What are the seven or eight or ... Red Cross certifications I can earn?
Lifeguard Training and/or Shallow Water Lifeguard and/or Basic Water Rescue; First Aid; Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation for the Professional Rescuer; Automated External Defibrillation; Waterfront Lifeguard; Administering Emergency Oxygen; Epinephrine Auto Injector Administration and Bloodborne Pathogens: Preventing Disease Transmission. (Relax, we've got eleven weeks.)
(The waterfront guard certification requires a trip to the beach to complete some skills that can't be done at the De Anza pool. waterfront lifeguard practice May 16, 2010)
Descriptions/explanations of the certifications are at: Lifeguard certifications offered at De Anza College
The Red Cross says that the old program (2006) and new program can't be mixed together, so if you have a lifeguard cert from the old program you can't just add on the new waterfront cert, you have to attend the entire new class. If you are already certified in CPR/AED for the Professional Rescuer and Health Care Provider, the Red Cross still requires attendance in all CPR class sessions for your new lifeguard certification.
First Aid for Public Safety Personnel (Title 22) and Lifeguard Management are often offered outside of class time.
How much does lifeguard training cost?
As of 2013, enrollment fees for the four unit class will be $31 per unit ($124)
Textbook, maybe $35, at the college bookstore or the new 2012 lifeguard manual is available for a free download at: http://www.instructorscorner.org/media/resources/l/lg_part_manual_landing.html
Some bookstores still sell older versions of the Red Cross lifeguard training text. These three books are no longer be used.
two pocket masks, adult and pediatric, maybe $15 at the college bookstore.
A $35 fee is charged by the Red Cross for your card(s). That's $35 for one or more or all the certifications, not $35 each.
(As of 2013) Basic college fees are $49,
no matter how many classes you take (including a pass for unlimited rides on VTA buses and light rail) and an
(optional) parking permit is auto $26.65, $15 for mopeds/motorcycles. (A four quarter long auto permit is $90).
More students qualify for financial aid than use it or even know they qualify. There are enrollment fee waivers you can apply for online. For all the details go to:
You don't have to pay for all your classes/fees at once. De Anza has an installment payment plan that allows you to defer most of your payments. Go to: http://www.deanza.fhda.edu/registration/cashier/deferpay.html
Lifeguard training at De Anza is competitively priced as compared to other local programs which offer only four basic certifications instead of the seven (or even more) we offer at De Anza. For example: (some prices resident/non-resident): (2011) A swim club in Sunnyvale $265, Sunnyvale $225 residents, $255 non-residents, a private pool in Menlo Park $300, Mill Valley $194, Cupertino $185/$222, Mountain View $229/ $286, Palo Alto $189/$219, (2010) Santa Clara $256/286, a private pool in Campbell $300, (2009) San Jose $265, Walnut Creek $200, Pleasanton, $250/275.
If you took some of the certification classes at the local Red Cross chapter they would cost you (2012):
First Aid $70,
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillation for Professional Rescuers and Health Care Providers, $110,
Bloodborne Pathogens: Preventing Disease Transmission $50.
If I don't want, or don't really have the time for a lifeguard job, can I still get experience?
Yes. Many graduates get their first experience guarding by helping with a De Anza swim class and De Anza lifeguarding graduates regularly volunteer. For example, guarding the Silicon Valley Kids Triathlon, 2004...check out the picture of the 3-year-old triathletes. We've done Escape from Alcatraz 'Sharkfest' swim volunteering for years. 2009 Senior Games triathlon lifeguards
What are the Red Cross certification written tests like?
The Red Cross certification tests are multiple-choice. 80% is passing. (For most Red Cross exams you can have two tries if you need them.)
We spend a lot of time in class making sure that students understand the vocabulary needed to pass the tests.
Go to How to pass a Red Cross written test for more info.
How do I enroll at De Anza?
If you haven't ever been a De Anza student, or were here before, but not the most recent quarter, you must first apply to the college. If you have not been accepted as a De Anza student, you can't just show up the first day of class and be automatically added, so do the paperwork online beforehand when you won't have to stand in a line.
Registration steps are at: http://www.deanza.fhda.edu/admissions/
High school students in their junior and senior years have been able to take the class. Go to: http://www.deanza.fhda.edu/admissions/hschecklist.html
This webpage might be of assistance in convincing a high school principal or counselor.
The college catalog lists a prerequisite of PE 26B, but you do not have to have taken any college swim classes. If the registration system refuses your entry into the class because of not having taken PE 26B, email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
Certification validity: Your Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED card (or Shallow Water Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED card) will be good for two years from the date of class completion. The add-on Waterfront Skills cert is valid for two years, (but only valid as long as you have a current Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED card). Oxygen and Bloodborne Pathogens are valid for one year. Epinephrine Auto-Injector Training has no validity date/expiration.
If you are in a profession that requires them (nursing, for example) Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are available for almost every certification you can earn in this course after you certify.
Go to: http://www.redcrossstore.org/dp.aspx?pgid=547
Can I get the Red Cross swim teacher certification at De Anza College?
Please go to P.E.28G for details about the De Anza College winter quarter 2012 class.
Details of the Red Cross swim stroke performance standards for WSI candidates are at: WSI prerequisites.
LOST YOUR RED CROSS CARD(S)? Go to If you lost your Red Cross certification card
How to get a locker, how to find the pools, sunscreen, P/NP grading, waitlists and more
are covered at
Swim classes FAQs
Student learning outcomes in lifeguard training
Many of the overachievers in this class have gone on to become Red Cross instructors. Enrollment in the CPR/AED FPR instructor classes I occasionally teach is by invitation only. Read some details at: CPR instructor.
If this page did not answer all of your questions, when I am in town I usually check my email at least twice a day.