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Frequently asked questions on beach lifeguarding

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Created on Friday, 25 August 2006 Written by NSVL

If you have any questions about becoming a beach lifeguard, please read through this list of FAQs before contacting us.

Can anyone come on the course?
I wear spectacles/contact lenses, can I attend the course?
I am from overseas, can I attend the course?
Is the qualification recognised in other countries?
Do I need to have a competitive swimming background?
What are the timed swims?
What other fitness tests do you need to do to get a job as a lifeguard?
Do I need to be a surfer?
What is the pass rate on courses?
How is the course structured?
Is it cold in the sea?
Do I need my own wetsuit?
How difficult is the exam?
What happens if I can't attend some sessions, or the final exam?
What do I get out of it?
Will I get a job at the end of it?
What will it cost me?
How long is the qualification valid?
Who does the training?
Can I work in a pool with a Beach Lifeguard Qualification?
I'm a pool lifeguard - do I need to take the Beach Lifeguard Qualification to work on the beach?
I am already a Beach Lifeguard but need to retake my qualification
What happens after the course has finished?
I'm still not sure...

Can anyone come on the course?

You must be over 16 years old to attend the course, though we prefer people to be over 18 unless they have worked through the RLSS Lifesaving awards. There is no upper age limit for attendance on the course, in fact we actively encourage more mature people onto the course as it gives a broader spectrum of experience.

Being a beach lifeguard is not just a summer job, it is also an enjoyable hobby and you can become qualified even if you don't intend to work on a beach.

If you're too young to do the beach lifeguard course at the moment, you can still be involved! NSVL runs lifesaving classes at the pool session on Saturday evening, and you may also be able to join in with the open water sessions. As soon as you're 16 you'll be able to come on the course - and you'll already have learnt a lot of the skills needed!
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I wear spectacles/contact lenses, can I attend the course?

If you wear spectacles or contact lenses then as long as you can function in a rescue situation efficiently without them then this should not pose a problem. It is personal preference whether contact lenses are worn in the sea, but goggles may not be worn. NO SPECIAL PROVISION CAN BE MADE, EITHER DURING TRAINING OR ASSESSMENT.
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I am from overseas, can I take the course?

If you are not from the UK then you can attend the course so long as you are able to speak and understand English fully. NO SPECIAL PROVISION CAN BE MADE, EITHER DURING TRAINING OR ASSESSMENT.
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Is the qualification recognised in other countries?

The qualification is recognised by the International Lifesaving Federation and will be accepted by some employers in some countries, however lifeguarding requirements are different across the world and for a definitive answer you would have to contact lifeguard employers in the area you were intending to apply to ask whether they accept the qualification.

At the very least, the qualification will give you a good background in essential lifesaving techniques.
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Do I need to have a competitive swimming background?

You must be a competent swimmer, but you don't need to have competitive swimming experience. Although there is a timed swim test in the pool, swimming in the sea is a completely different experience. The strongest swimmers in the pool often have difficulties conditioning themselves to swimming in the cold sea with waves and currents.

As long as you are a reasonable swimmer in the pool and can swim 400m (16 lengths of a 25m pool) without stopping you should be able to successfully complete the course.

If you have not been swimming recently it is a good idea to test yourself before applying for a course. The NSVL pool session on a Saturday evening is always open to anyone who wants to practice their swimming and you can get advice from lifeguard trainers and swimming teachers. If you prefer to swim at other times, why not try some of the practices in our Training Tips section.
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What are the timed swims?

Timed swims are completed in the pool wearing swimwear. Goggles may be worn.

The current requirement is to complete 400m (16 lengths of a 25m pool) in under 8 minutes. The time for the first 200m will also be recorded. Both times are noted on your certificate.
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What are the other fitness tests you need to do to get a job as a lifeguard?

Some lifeguard employers have further fitness standards you must meet to be employed by them.

Lifeguards qualifying through NSVL can get extra training and advice throughout the year to improve their fitness and swimming.

 

If you are planning to take the course in order to gain employment, it is your responsibility to check the requiremens of your prospective employer.

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Do I need to be a surfer?

Being a surfer can be an advantage, but it is by no means compulsory. However, if you do not have experience of the open water then it may take you longer to acclimatise to it and learn how to handle the sea. Additional training is always available.
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What is the pass rate on courses?

We will not enter you for assessment until we believe you are capable of passing. If you can pass the pre-course swim test and are committed enough to attend the full course you should have no problem in passing. If there are any problem areas, extra training will be available for you.
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How is the course structured?


All training takes place at our beach base in Whitley Bay and at Tynemouth Pool, and is conducted in a relaxed, friendly and informal environment.

A typical session might include:

  • Beach Lifeguard theory training
  • Open water rescue skills in the sea
  • Life Support resuscitation skills
  • First Aid training
  • Pool training skills difficult to teach in the sea / timed swims

Wherever possible teaching is interactive. Our training room is equipped with the latest audi-visual equipment and there will be group activities and discussion during the theory training - while the life support, first aid and open water sections will all require participation. Occasionally during the course there will be mock incidents for you to deal with to enhance your teamwork skills, both within the lifeguard team and with outside Search and Rescue agencies, such as Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade and Cullercoats Lifeboat who we are lucky to have close links with.
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Is it cold in the sea?

The North Sea is never warm. Temperatures over the winter will range from about 4-9°C, and in the summer it rarely gets above 14°C, but with a good wetsuit and some acclimatisation you should survive!

During the winter we usually run courses over a number of weeks as you will not be able or expected to stay in the water for long periods.
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Do I need my own wetsuit?

Even in the summer, the North Sea is not usually warm enough to conduct lengthy training sessions without a wetsuit. Your wetsuit should be at least 5mm for training in the winter, and you will also need boots and gloves. Some people also wear rash vests. It is important that you have a wetsuit that fits you well - if it's not tight it will offer very little protection. We can arrange a discount for people on the course wanting to purchase wetsuits. A new wetsuit with gloves and boots can cost from around £120. If you can't afford to buy a wetsuit you can hire one from us.
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How difficult is the exam?

The assessment will test your learning, practical skills and ability to think and act clearly in all the main areas (Life Support, First Aid, Theory, Open Water, Pool). For some people the most daunting task is the 400m swim in under 8 minutes (in the pool), but stamina and speed build up over the weeks and you should be able to manage this. The actual open water test has no timed rescues, but you are expected to complete all rescues with a sense of urgency.
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What happens if I can't attend some sessions, or the final exam?

You are expected to attend all sessions, however if you know that you will not be available for a certain session then this can be discussed in advance with the trainer. If you are unavoidably absent for a session or the end assessment then extra training or another assessment can be arranged.
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What do I get out of it?

You get out as much as you put in. Hopefully you will be taught skills for life to save life. You should come out of the course with the ability to know how to help - not just in a lifeguarding context but in any life-threatening situation you come across.

While saving lives is a serious business, you should also have a lot of fun on the course and the qualification you receive at the end is an excellent addition to your UCAS form or CV.
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Will I get a job at the end of it?

In the UK, beach lifeguarding is only usually seasonal employment from May-September. Areas with 'resort' beaches will usually employ lifeguards, along with more popular rural areas.

Qualifying through NSVL and participating in ongoing training once the course finishes means that you are in the perfect position to apply for jobs.

Jobs are usually advertised early in the new year in plenty of time for the summer.

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How much does the course cost ?
The cost of the beach lifeguard courses is currently £160, including all manuals and personal equipment required along with certification.
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How long is the qualification valid?

The qualification is valid for 2 years from the assessment date. Over this period you should continue regular training and you will be welcome to train with NSVL both at the beach and the pool throughout the year. This training can be logged by our Trainer/Assessors so that you have the number of hours required when you need to retake the qualification after the two year period.
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 Who conducts the training?

You will be trained by experienced beach lifeguards who are qualified RLSS Beach Lifeguard Trainers and then assessed by an independent Assessor.

Other trainers and lifeguards are also on hand throughout the course to offer different perspectives and advice.
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Can I work in a pool with a Beach Lifeguard Qualification?

No, the Beach and Pool Lifeguard Qualifications are separate, though if you take the Beach Lifeguard course you will already have acquired a lot of the knowledge needed for Pool Lifeguard.
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I'm a pool lifeguard - do I need to take the Beach Lifeguard Qualification to work on the beach?

Yes, though you should already be familiar with a lot of the skills. However, to swim in the cold sea you have to be certain you want to do it! Sometimes courses are arranged specifically for qualified pool lifeguards where the number of training hours can be reduced to take into account the skills you already have.
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I am already a Beach Lifeguard but need to retake my qualification

Then come along! We train every Saturday afternoon from 12.30pm-4.30pm at our beach base. Hours can be logged and assessments arranged when needed. See the Ongoing Training page for details of the training rota.
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What happens after the course has finished?

All people attending the course will automatically be made members of NSVL. We hope that you will continue being an active member of the club when your course is finished and participate in club activities and join in with the club's extensive social life!

We also hope that you will continue training with us - passing your final exam is not the end of your training. Ongoing training is essential if you are to refresh, develop and extend your skills. Open water and pool training continues throughout the year every Saturday at Whitley Bay - you could even help out by being lifeguard cover and attending the training sessions of the next beach lifeguard course!

Training sessions are not always formal and the beach base is open access on Saturday afternoons for anyone wishing to come for a swim or just practice using the equipment.

For those who don't intend to get a job as a lifeguard in the summer, NSVL provides opportunities to volunteer as a lifeguard and also join in with training sessions throughout the year.

As well as ongoing training, as a member you will also get the opportunity to attend other related courses to extend your knowledge and gain additional qualifications, such as using defibrillators.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to assist teaching Rookies and gain teaching qualifications yourself - a few years down the line you could be passing on your knowledge to the next generation of lifeguards!
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I'm still not sure...

If you've read this far then you're obviously interested in doing the course - you're probably just not sure whether you will be able to do it... In most cases YOU WILL! Perhaps you think you need to look like someone off Baywatch....YOU DON'T! Perhaps you think you're a slow swimmer and everyone else will be much faster....THEY WON'T BE! Perhaps you think you need to be a surfer....YOU DON'T! Perhaps you've never even swum in the sea before and you think everyone else goes in every week...THEY DON'T! Perhaps you think you'll be cold in the sea....YOU WILL...but you'll get used to it!

If that still doesn't persuade you then don't just think that's it. You could still learn resuscitation and first aid skills, and take lifesaving awards at the pool. You might even be able to build your confidence up enough to take the Beach Lifeguard Qualification!

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