Life in the Chair! How to Stay Alert & Healthy During Your Lifeguard Shift


Cocoa Beach, Florida

“A Good Lifeguard Never Gets Wet.”

That introduction sounds absurd but it is true. A good lifeguard never gets wet because they’re alert at all times, scanning their dedicated coverage areas and making sure that none of the swimmers are putting themselves in a vulnerable situation. Often times side distractions, manage to make a lifeguard lose focus and this in turn could cost a life. Sometimes these distractions may be necessities such as a shift change. During periods like this a lifeguard may lose sight of what’s important. This article is focused on helping a lifeguard stay alert on the job.

Here are a few tips to staying alert as a lifeguard:

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Fatigue is a major cause of getting distracted or sleepy during your shift. Make sure you are well rested and hydrated before work. Research has shown that even mild dehydration can alter your mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly. Alcohol and caffeine can make dehydration worse, so stick to water so that you can spend your energy scanning the pool, instead of fighting to keep your eyes open at your station.

Know Your Zone

Before you go on duty, know your zone that you will be guarding. Every lifeguard has a preassigned zone. First, establish what your zone is. Be clear on it. Whether it is the entire body of water, or a small part of it. Make sure you discuss with other lifeguards or management which area your zone is. If you’re the only one guarding, then your zone is all of the area the patrons occupy. All lifeguards are to know their zones before they go on duty. While in your zone be sure to scan all patrons in your zone. While this may seem like common sense, you may develop a tendency to skip over guests who look like they are not in danger. While more often than not this will be true, there are times when a guest may be in a dangerous situation that is not completely evident to you

Choose Your Scanning Pattern

What is your scanning pattern? Scanning is how you choose to scan the water. You have two options to scan the water.

Lifeguard Chair

Everondack® TLG 655 Lifeguard Chair

i) Scan Side To Side
From all the way to the left of your zone, all the way to the right of your zone. Once at the right side, you then scan back to the left. When first starting, start at the top of your zone. Keep scanning from side to side until you reach the bottom of your zone. Start from the top. Scan from side to side. Eyes going in a straight line, from side to side. Until you reach the bottom of your zone. This helps you get a glimpse of every swimmer on a horizontal plane

ii) Scan Top and Down
From all the way at the top of your zone, scan to all the way down of your zone. Once at the bottom, you then scan back to the top. When first starting, start at the left of your zone. Keep scanning from top to bottom, working your way to the other side of your zone (right side). Start from the left. Scan from top to bottom, Eyes going in a straight line, until you reach the right side of your zone. This helps keep everyone within the stretch of the pool, beach, or lake within your view.

Switch PLifeguard Chair ostures

Be sure to move positions often, preferably every five minutes. Meaning after five minutes, instead of sitting down, stand up and scan. So every 5 minutes change your body. Also, every 5 minutes, change your scanning style. Instead of scanning up and down, scan from side to side. And vice-versa. This will help you to stay alert. As a lifeguard, you will spend a large portion of your shift scanning your area. This process can often become very repetitive and sometimes boring. In order to keep patrons safe, you must maintain your focus and stay alert at all times. To stay focused, make sure that you maintain good posture on your chair and move your head from side to side while scanning. If you find yourself drifting, try changing positions or standing up for a few moments. This will keep you alert and could give you a different perspective from which to view your area.

Never Lose Focus

Scanning is a great tool to use to ensure that you monitor your entire area. While it may be easy to assume that self-identified strong swimmers are safe in the water, they still face danger. So it is essential you dedicate the same attention to all patrons. Furthermore as the lifeguard on duty, you will have to field questions from guests. When this happens, it is extremely important that you do not look away from your area. Once the question is asked, quickly acknowledge the patron letting them know that you are unable to interrupt your scanning to look at them. Letting them know this would curb the outlook of rudeness and create a sense of confidence in them that while they’re out there they’re protected by a certain hawk eyed lifeguard- that’s you.

Another common thing you will face while on duty is distractions from outside of your area such as getting a call on your cellphone. Seeing as it’s difficult to resist the urge to look at the cellphone these days. Most management won’t let their lifeguards have their phones handy and with good reason too. In fact research has shown that one in four lifeguards have “texted” while on duty. This is rather disturbing because drowning can occur in a very short time, even shorter than the time to type out a text message. Even if your management doesn’t forbid it, it is always professional to leave your phone inside with your other belongings, and wait until your break to use it. That goes for books, too, and anything else that pulls your focus away from the pool.

As there will be distractions every day, you will need to maintain focus and actively scan while you are on duty.


Keep Yourself Covered

It’s a rather great feeling being outside instead of stuck in a boring office all day, but the weather can be very unpredictable. Be sure to come prepared for everything from the heat to the sun, rain, thunderstorms, and even hurricanes. Keep an umbrella handy, apply sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and have water close by at all times to drink during your shift. If you’re ready for anything, you won’t get stuck being uncomfortable at your station.

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