You Could Become a Lifeguard and Make Up to $30 an Hour This Summer

An overweight man poses for a portrait on lake with a floating device.
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Grab your shades, sunscreen and whistle. A nationwide shortage of lifeguards has water parks, camps and municipalities scrambling to hire thousands to staff swimming pools, lakes and beaches. Some are offering free training, which takes 25 to 40 hours. Other employers are raising hourly pay to $10 to $30.

“We have raised wages at all our parks… Both lifeguard training and licence are free to each new and returning team member,” said Nick Paradise, director of corporate communications for Palace Entertainment, which owns 10 water parks across the country. Hourly wages vary by location but are $15 at Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh and $18 an hour at Splish Splash in Long Island, N.Y.

The shortage is largely because lifeguards have to renew their lifeguard certification every two years and thousands haven’t been able to do so.

“In many parts of the country, there were long periods when people could not train, and staff and potential staff did not feel safe to train due to physical distancing guidance,” said Lindsay Mondick who oversees aquatics and other initiatives for the YMCA of the U.S.A. “Now that the vaccine is more readily available to potential lifeguarding candidates, we may see a slow return.”

It takes more than superior swimming skills to get a job as a lifeguard, however. Here are the requirements to become a lifeguard, the courses you’ll need and what the current job market looks like.

Here’s What Some Lifeguard Jobs Are Paying

Lifeguarding 2021 is no longer a minimum wage job in most cities and towns.

Job postings show employers are willing to pay more than previous summers. Check out these wages: in San Francisco: $22 to $30 and hour

The city of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: $18.93 to $29.33 an hour for waterfront lifeguards

Hyannis Harbor Hotel in Hyannis, Mass.: $25 an hour

The city of Durham, N.C.: $18 an hour

Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh: $15 an hour

The city of St. Petersburg, Fla.: $13.25 to $21

Hiring Incentives for Lifeguards

Just as restaurant chains are offering cash for interviews and referrals, so are employers looking for lifeguards.

“Some of our parks are offering referral bonuses,” Paradise said. “One incentive we have offered at nearly all our parks is to provide four complimentary Basic Season Passes for the team member and immediate family if they applied and completed the hiring process by a certain date.”

Orange City, Iowa is paying a $20 referral bonus for a lifeguard who gets a friend to join the team at public pools. And the Parks and Recreation Department in Mesquite, Texas will pay $50 for one referral, $75 for two and $100 for three.

Mondick at the YMCA stressed that lifeguarding builds skills such as confidence, leadership and teamwork, which transfer well to any career and look great on a resume. Along with touting the crucial role lifeguards play, YMCAs across the country are trying various incentives such as referral and sign-on bonuses.

“Many YMCAs are also focused on non-traditional lifeguards, and engaging those who have retired, or those who formerly served their country in the military to now serve their community through lifeguarding positions,” she added.

Here are the Basics on How To Become A Lifeguard

It takes around 25 hours of training to be certified in all lifeguard requirements. Some organizations are teaching a combination of in-person and online classes and some are all in-person courses in swimming pools.

Private training schools, non-profit groups such as the American Red Cross and the YMCA, and employers themselves offer lifeguard training classes throughout the summer.

A lifeguard stands watch over an indoor pool.
Photo courtesy of YMCA

The American Red Cross is offering a 2-day or 4-day lifeguard training course around the country immediately. Here are some of the lifeguarding course requirements.

  • Minimum age: 15 years
  • Swim 300 yards continuously
  • Tread water for 2 minutes using only your legs
  • Complete a timed mock “rescue” within 1 minute and 40 seconds by starting in the water, swimming 20 yards, making a surface dive to a depth of 7 to 10 feet, retrieving a 10-pound object, returning to the surface and swimming 20 yards on your back to return to the starting point, then exit the water without using steps or a ladder.
  • Applicants must also show they can do CPR on a swimmer, administer first aid and use an automated external defibrillator, also known as CPR AED.

How to Become a Waterfront Lifeguard

Waterfront lifeguarding requires additional safety training, skills and abilities. It varies by employers, but most require you to:

  • Swim 500 meters or 550 yards in 10 minutes or less in open waters.
  • Run a mile in 8 minutes and 30 seconds or less.
  • Master certain swimmer surveillance techniques
  • Use equipment such as all terrain vehicles, rescue boards, buoys, kayaks, paddleboards, masks, fins and snorkels
  • Know water conditions such as rip tides and how to recognize dangerous wildlife

The Cost of Lifeguard Certification

Right now if you want to learn how to be a lifeguard, there’s a good chance it might cost you nothing. For example, the Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh website opens with a page touting it’s raised its wages to $15 an hour and is offering free lifeguard certification. Many other employers including some YMCAs are doing the same.

If you are paying the cost varies greatly, but is well worth it. For example the city of Marion, Ohio, charges $25 for lifeguard certification courses. The American Red Cross courses range in price from $100 to $300 depending on the location.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.