Lifeguard Training FAQs

photo by Joyce Kuo lifeguard Herland Antezana activates emergency action plan: lifeguard stands in lifeguard station, blows whistle and points towards problemJasonguardingat2005kidstri187 pixels: carrytransferto guard on deck: Lifeguards Peter Lee and Ethan Wilkie demonstrate bag valve mask: two lifeguards using a bag valve mask for rescue breathinglifeguard Peter Lee guards kayak lesson at De Anza pool: lifeguard at edge of pool deck in background with paddlers in kayaks in pool in foreground

This page has advice and tips for passing lifeguard training prerequisite swim tests and written exams. The same tricks for Red Cross training also apply to YMCA, Ellis, USLA, Boy Scouts or Starguard tests.

Beware of places that offer totally online certification as a lifeguard. There are dozens of other brands that say they offer “full certification as a professional rescuer.” BUT if you ask at pools, waterfronts, beaches, summer camps, swim clubs, resorts you might want to work at you will find they do not accept many certifications. Be sure to check first where you want to work for which certifications they accept.

sparkling pool water

The Red Cross released a new Lifeguard Training certification program in early February 2024.

August 31, 2024: Basic level lifeguard courses based on the 2017 manuals will no longer be taught.
“all courses must be complete on this date.”

In the new materials we read:

“Course Prerequisites
To participate in the Lifeguarding (Including Deep Water) course, participants must:
▪ Be at least 15 years old on or before the final scheduled session of the Lifeguarding course.

▪ Successfully complete the two prerequisite swimming skills evaluations:

o Prerequisite 1: Complete a swim-tread-swim sequence without stopping to rest:
▪ Jump into the water and totally submerge, resurface then swim 150 yards using the front
crawl, breaststroke or a combination of both. (Swimming on the back or side is not
permitted. Swim goggles are allowed)
▪ Maintain position at the surface of the water for 2 minutes by treading water using only
the legs
▪ Swim 50 yards using the front crawl, breaststroke or a combination of both

o Prerequisite 2: Complete a timed event within 1 minute, 40 seconds:
▪ Starting in the water, swim 20 yards. (The face may be in or out of the water. Swim
goggles are not allowed)
▪ Surface dive (feet-first or head-first) to a depth of 7 – 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound
▪ Return to the surface and swim 20 yards on the back to return to the starting point,
holding the object at the surface with both hands and keeping the face out at or near the
▪ Exit the water without using a ladder or steps

Note: “If the Lifeguarding course includes training for the Waterfront Skills module, additional
prerequisite swimming distances and skills are required.”

The material below is still in effect until August 31, 2024

To become a Red Cross lifeguard, do I have to have a perfect freestyle?

No. The (updated in 2017 and still in use until August 2024) instructor’s manual says that you must swim “demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing,” but it does not say you must breathe to the side perfectly on your freestyle. “Slight hesitation during breathing” is okay.

It also says you need to demonstrate comfort in the water, and you need to maintain a body position that is nearly horizontal. Your arms should come up out of the water on freestyle recovery. Your leg action “should contribute to forward motion.”

Each of the swim tests are “continuous” swims. You can’t stop at the side, or hold on to a lane line or stand on the bottom.

Eric Hall, Caitlin Hipskind and Brian Pham guarding at finish line 2007 Sharkfest: GeorgeCullisonmidrescue 91 pixel: lifeguard and rescue tube

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 who thought they were not a good swimmer.

There are two timed prerequisite swim tests, one for potential lifeguards/waterpark/waterfront lifeguards and a different one for shallow water attendants. I will not be teaching a separate Aquatic Attraction Lifeguarding course, since that material is now integrated into the Lifeguarding course, so I am not including those tests here. But the advice for passing the treading water test is the same.

For each of the prerequisite swim tests, the instructors manual says you get one re-test: “If a candidate is not successful on the first attempt at the prerequisite skills, they only have one more opportunity to meet the prerequisites after sufficient rest, prior to the first scheduled class session.”
Many people find their initial attempt at the test that involves getting the weight from the bottom is awkward, so we practice it in swim classes. (The ten pound weight used is often a brick shape, but with rounded or smoothed edges. Ten pounds is the standard weight for lifeguard tests since people weigh about ten percent of what they do on land when in the water, so the ten pounds would represent about a 100 pound person. Why do you weigh only about 10%? Because your bones and muscles are denser than the water and your air in your lungs and body fat are lighter than the water.)

Perhaps of interest: you CAN float.

    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. In a De Anza swim class we can teach you the easy ways and work on gaining strength/speed in climbing out. You do not need the upper body strength to be able to do a full pushup on the pool deck and climb out. You can instead put a knee on the edge of the pool gutter and a forearm on the deck, then put your other foot on the gutter and your hands on the deck and step up from there,


    • or whatever other kind of contortionist move you invent.


    You just can’t use the steps or a ladder during testing.

pushup at pool deck from pool

climbing out of swimming pool

What if I’m out of shape? Students in my swim classes work towards being able to pass the tests and even practice some of the skills. Consider starting with KNES1B

kids tri june 2007 Somayeh and Sylvia guarding: volunteertrilifeguardAlanAhlst.rand: lifeguard leaning towards swimmer supported by a noodlelifeguard Alanna Klassen approaches passive victim (lifeguard) Jeremiah Chua: lifeguard Alanna Klassen approaches passive pretend victim (also a lifeguard) Jeremiah Chua187 PIXELS GUARDING KID'S TRI: lifeguard silhouetted with pool and swimmers in brighter light photo by Alan Ahlstrand, Red Cross Lifeguard Instructor and Volunteer of Record for De Anza College



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.

You will need to bring proof of your age to the training, “which can be a driver’s license, state identification, birth certificate or passport.”


What are the Red Cross lifeguard 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, but they will be two different tests.)

Go to How to pass a Red Cross written test for more info.

lifeguard Shannon Mathey assists a kayaker: lifeguard sitting in a kayak assists a kayaker trying to climb back into the kayak he fell out ofgeorge and alan backboard practice: lifeguard with rescue tube, other lifeguard on backboard during a practiceCrystalandswimmer2007tri120 pixels: girl clings to rescue tube lifeguard just gave her


Details about the Red Cross prerequisite swim tests:

Notice that for some of the pre-tests you can wear goggles, for others you can’t. You will not be allowed to wear goggles for any skills training or final testing during the lifeguard course.

The Red Cross warns: Goggles “are not made for underwater swimming. There is no way to equalize the pressure inside the goggles with the increasing pressure outside the body. The air volume inside the goggles tends to compress. This compression tends to “pull” the eyeball out of the socket to effectively reduce the trapped air volume. If swimmers spend time below the surface of the water wearing goggles they may pop blood vessels in their eyes. Goggles should not be worn for underwater swimming . . . Submerging to a depth of 5 feet or greater has the potential to cause barotraumas to the eye of an individual wearing swim goggles that cannot be pressure equalized.”

(Also, a lifeguard would not have the time to put on goggles just before they do a rescue, and would not wear them all the time to guard.)

Wearing your contact lenses to swim or in a lifeguard class is dangerous. The Red Cross warns: “Swimmers with contact lenses should remove them before opening eyes underwater.” Pool chemicals can damage some kinds and others will absorb bacteria, leading to infection. All brands of goggles can leak or slip off, even if you wear them tightly and do not fully protect contact lenses.

Lifeguard training students should remove all piercings, but at least those that protrude from your body (example: you might be safe with a flat ear stud, but not with loop earrings). Read body piercings and lifeguards to help you determine which piercings you will remove:

You should not expect to be allowed to use noseplugs or earplugs. In deep water earplugs can be forced by water pressure into your ear. The Red Cross warns: “Do not wear earplugs; pressure changes make them dangerous.”

De Anza pool aerial cropped: a cropped aerial photo of the two De Anza College pools(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.)

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(updated in 2017 and still in use until August 2024) Shallow water lifeguard prerequisite swim tests are:

1. Swim 100 yards continuously demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing. Candidates may swim using the 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 stopping, using only your legs. Your hands will be placed under your armpits. The head must remain above the surface of the water.

Both hands must stay under your armpits, you can’t do any sculling.

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 (freestyle) or breaststroke, with your face in or out of the water. Goggles are not allowed. 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. Red Cross rules do not allow goggles for this part of the test.

Ken Mignosa guarding kid's tri 2007: annmariestridejump186 pixels: kids tri june 2007 Sherry Fong guarding:

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(updated in 2017 and still in use until August 2024 ) Lifeguard and Waterpark prerequisite swim tests are

1. Swim 300 yards continuously, using front crawl (freestyle), breaststroke or a combination of both, demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing. 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 stopping, using only your legs. Your hands will be placed under your armpits. Your head must remain above the surface of the water.

Both hands must stay under your armpits, you can’t do any sculling.

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 on your 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 seven certifications and went on to become a Red Cross Lifeguard Instructor.

Minh Nguyen assisting swimmer: shepherd's crook 2: Mike Rivers guarding: JulioBazanandswimmerkidstri 130 pixels: lifeguard assists smiling child at swim race

Advice for passing the lifeguard prerequisite 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.
    The De Anza College 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, but your partner also needs to stay out of your way as you climb out of the pool.
    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.

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lifeguard on rescue board: onerescuerbeachdrag2010 148 pixels: lifeguard practices a beach drag

2010 lifeguard paddling practice, one tipped over: waterfront lifeguard instructor Ken Mignosa oversees paddling practice as one lifeguard candidate's board tips over(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)


(updated in 2017 and still in use until August 2024) Waterfront lifeguard (a guard for “non-surf, open water areas found at public parks, resorts, summer camps, and campgrounds”) prerequisite swim tests are:

1) Swim 550 yards continuously, demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing, 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 (not walk) 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.)

lifeguard volunteers Peter Ye, Sherry Fong, Ted Beckman.: 2009 National Senior Games Triathlon lifeguard volunteers Peter Ye (doing a rescue on a rescue board) Sherry Fong, Ted Beckman (in kayak) and some swimmers visible.

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?

submergedvictim160pix: No, the rescue tube, handled properly, provides enough flotation to get the victim to the surface. 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.

Many students in my De Anza College swim classes work on the prerequisite swim test and lifeguard skills 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(s). Some of the things we can work on in swim class are at: Get ready for lifeguard training.

backboarding from underwaterSVKTkickingwithrescuetube 234 pixels: child holds on to end of rescue tube with lifeguard also holding tube Joyce Kuo photo swim class lifeguard assist 234 pixels: rescue tube as surface and two people underwater

Alcatri start 2010: a mass of swimmers and kayakers on San Francisco bay with part of Alcatraz island in the background

When is lifeguard training offered at De Anza College?

Due to budget problems, lifeguard training is no longer offered, but I am teaching it off campus regularly.

How do I enroll at De Anza to take a swim class to prepare for lifeguard training?

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:

High school students in their junior and senior years have been able to take De Anza Saturday swim classes. Go to:

For information on concurrent enrollment at De Anza College while attending a Fremont Union High School District High School (Cupertino, Lynbrook, Monta Vista, Fremont and Homestead), go to:

This webpage might be of assistance in convincing a high school principal or counselor.

How to get a locker, how to find the pools, sunscreen, Pass/No Pass grading, waitlists and more are covered at

Swim classes FAQs

400 pixel reach assist with yellow tube:
As further preparation you can read the Red Cross lifeguard book in advance of the class.

cover of a red Cross lifeguard training manual showing a rescue tube floating in a pool

To get a free download of the copyrighted 2016, released 2017 American Red Cross Lifeguarding Manual go to:

then click on and save (download)

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To make it easier to find the skills sheets pages write in your Red Cross Lifeguarding Manual


guards on deck at Silicon Valley kids tri 187 pixels: four lifeguards at triathlonlifeguard Ethan Wilkie checks for object 187 pixels: lifeguard Ethan Wilkie checks for object in manikin mouthJavier Puente photo by Joyce Kuo: lifeguard on duty DanoushAhmadiguardingAlcatri 187 pixels: Danoush Ahmadi guarding Alcatri ocean swim

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, being a scout leader, camp counselor or recreation leader.

A scout group can do so many more water, boating activities if they have a lifeguard (for example a parent).

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.

patch that says American Red Cross lifeguard