Could you be a lifeguard?

Could you be a lifeguard?

Central YMCA is an approved training centre for the Royal Life Saving Society and offers courses for the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ). Our next one starts on 26 October, with an assessment on Saturday 31 October, and costs just £270. If you or someone you know is thinking about training as a lifeguard, here are some tips from NPLQ trainer assessor Julian Meldrum on what you need to do.

A lifeguard qualification is a rite of passage for many swimmers. It opens the door to a wide range of jobs in the fitness industry, water-based sports and leisure, and to volunteering as a swim teacher or a play leader in holiday camps. The role has helped many students through college, and has given many young people the first evidence on their CV of their ability to take on serious responsibility. It’s equally relevant to older adults planning a career change.

The NPLQ is open to anyone over the age of 16 on the day when the course is assessed. So, a 16th birthday the day before the assessment would be no problem – though best not to eat too much cake! There is no upper age limit, we commonly have learners in their 30s through to their 50s on our courses.

You don’t need to be a competitive swimmer, though anyone who HAS been a competitive swimmer will have no problem with the pool work, which takes up about 11 hours out of the 40 hours needed to complete the NPLQ, including assessment.

So what does training for a lifeguard qualification involve?

The NPLQ includes a fitness test, with two timed ‘rescues’, one straight after the other. The RLSS states that before joining the course, you need to swim 50 metres (two lengths of our pool) within 60 seconds.  Ideally, you should be able to do this two or three times, with no more than a minute’s rest in between. Most front crawl swimmers who swim face down, breathing out into the water, turning their heads to breathe in, will find this quite easy. A few swimmers can do it on breaststroke or sidestroke. But do use a pace clock or watch and check!

Getting your face in the water is vital. You need to be able to dive down – from swimming on the surface or directly from the deep end on poolside – to pick up an object from the deepest part of any pool where you work. At Central YMCA, this means going down to 2 metres. Potentially, this can hurt your ears, so you may need to hold your nose and gently ‘blow’ to equalise the pressure and protect your ear drums. In the assessment, you will need to do this without goggles, though the object in question is child-sized and bright orange, so hard to miss.

Treading water is an essential lifeguard skill. The RLSS minimum is to do this for 30 seconds, keeping your head out of the water so you can see and hear what is going on around you, and tell people what to do! Ideally, you need to go further. If you can also keep both hands out of the water for a minute or longer, your leg action should be powerful enough to meet your needs when towing casualties, especially those with suspected spinal injuries where both arms are used to stabilise the neck. This is always worth practising before joining an NPLQ course.

The course covers first aid for a range of injuries and medical conditions, including CPR for adults, children and babies. We include defibrillator (AED) training too, as this is an essential part of delivering effective care for someone who has had a heart attack and many pools – including Central YMCA – now have this equipment on site. The course also includes in-depth training on relevant health and safety legislation and good practice in pool lifeguarding. The UK has an outstanding record in reducing drownings in public swimming pools, which are now almost unheard of. Unfortunately, when they do occur, they make the lead story in national news, so it is vital to maintain the lifeguarding standards that swimmers now rightly expect.

For further details and an application form for the next pool lifeguard course at YMCA Club, please email


About the author:

Julian Meldrum first qualified as a lifeguard more than 20 years ago and has now been delivering NPLQ courses at Central YMCA as an RLSS Trainer Assessor for nearly 2 years.

| 26 August 2015