How to become a beach lifeguard in the UK, plus tips
Updated 28 March 2023
Beaches present several health and safety hazards to visitors. Lifeguards ensure everyone's safety on the beach and in the water and help injured or struggling people. Being a lifeguard is an interesting, rewarding job, and if you're considering this position, you can benefit by learning more about it. In this article, we explain how to become a beach lifeguard in the UK, provide information on their training, responsibilities and key professional skills and give you a few useful tips for pursuing this role.
How to become a beach lifeguard in the UK
Knowing how to become a beach lifeguard in the UK is the first step to pursuing this role. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) employs beach lifeguards all over the country to look out for the public's safety on UK beaches and save lives in the water. The role is open to anyone over the age of 16 who can meet the necessary entry requirements and pass the requisite assessments. Below are the steps you can take if you would like to work as a beach lifeguard.
1. Enrol in a beach lifeguard course
Beach lifeguard candidates take a recognised training course. The RNLI asks them for a National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NVBLQ) or its equivalent. The organisation also accepts those with an International Life Saving Federation (ILS) beach/surf lifeguard qualification or its equivalent. The Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) UK website has a list of NVBLQ training providers around the country. The course takes five days to complete, including the assessment day, and comprises the following four modules:
Beach Lifeguarding -- Knowledge and Understanding
Life Support and First Aid
You can begin applying for beach lifeguard roles with the RNLI even if you've just started your NVBLQ training, but your employment depends on the successful completion of the course.
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Related: How to become a lifeguard
2. Complete your necessary assessments
At the end of your NVBLQ course, you complete assessments covering all module areas. There are five in total, including a practical first-aid test. The RNLI also has assessments when recruiting beach lifeguards. These include:
taking a health exam, including an eye test
completing a 200-metre beach run in 40 seconds or less
completing a 400-metre pool swim in less than seven-and-a-half minutes, with the first 200 meters taking no more than three-and-a-half minutes
completing a 25-meter underwater pool swim and a 25-meter surface swim consecutively in less than 50 seconds
providing or being able to pass an enhanced DBS check or equivalent
3. Consider your previous experience
Review the job description carefully, and think about how to best demonstrate your abilities before applying to the RNLI. Consider the transferrable skills from your previous experience. The demands of a beach lifeguard role may be different, but you can mention your work as a pool lifeguard, for example. If you've completed any type of first aid training, include this in your application to demonstrate your initiative and dedication.
4. Apply for a beach lifeguard position
The RNLI advertises job opportunities on its website. Once you've created an RNLI account, you can begin applying for jobs. Look for lifeguarding opportunities in your area and complete an application online.
On-the-job training for beach lifeguards
A beach lifeguard's training continues after they've completed the NVBLQ. The RNLI provides further on-the-job training to its recruited lifeguards so they have sufficient preparation for the first day of the lifeguarding season. Much of this training involves specific lifeguarding duties, including an induction that covers the role's key aspects, information lifeguards can use to safely execute their responsibilities and scenario exercises. The RNLI provides additional lifeguard training in the following areas:
Casualty care: the Casualty Care for Lifeguards course takes place on the beach and covers various topics from treating injuries to triaging casualties. Lifeguards also learn how to use the casualty care equipment at a lifeguard unit.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs): ATV training equips lifeguards with the necessary skills and knowledge to safely use quad bikes on the beach. This includes driving techniques and operational safety checks, for example.
Four-wheel drive vehicles: lifeguards may use patrol trucks extensively in their work. This course teaches them how to safely operate the vehicle on the beach and in a confined area and how to identify potential hazards.
Inshore rescue boats (IRBs): the RNLI has two IRB training courses the IRB crew and IRB helm. They provide lifeguards with the skills to safely use these fast-response, manoeuvrable vehicles.
Rescue watercraft (RWC): lifeguards can use RWC in various conditions, including large surfs. This course trains them how to safely and effectively operate these vehicles.
Professional development is also part of the RNLI's training philosophy, providing lifeguards with the opportunity to develop new skills so they can take on more senior responsibilities. Some of the training courses and more advanced roles lifeguards can apply for include:
Operational leadership training provides the necessary skills and knowledge to handle a senior lifeguard's responsibilities. Senior lifeguards ensure the effective and efficient operation of lifeguarding services on UK beaches by supervising a lifeguard unit. They lead lifeguard teams, organise their day-to-day tasks, assign duties and coordinate emergency rescue responses. They also ensure vehicle maintenance and handle much of the paperwork, such as incident logs, for the lifeguard unit.
Related: 9 leadership skills to develop
This training pathway helps prepare lifeguards to work as supervisors who help lifeguard managers run a unit. Their responsibilities involve the recruitment of new lifeguards, which includes training and induction activities, and ensuring lifeguard units have adequate stocks of operational equipment. They may also have the task of coordinating and promoting the RNLI's educational outreach activities.
The RNLI can teach lifeguards to train others on the role's different aspects. Highly skilled trainers are vital to preparing lifeguards on how to properly use various equipment, for example. This course uses several teaching mediums to equip lifeguards with the skills to train people with different learning styles.
Beach lifeguard duties
Beach lifeguards perform several duties to ensure visitors' safety at the beach. Much of their work is preventative, focusing on avoiding accidents and emergencies. They also interact with members of the public to share safety advice, for example. Lifeguarding duties can vary depending on the beach, but some common responsibilities include:
patrolling the beach on foot or in a vehicle
monitoring people on the beach and in the water to identify safety risks or people in need of aid
monitoring sea conditions and setting up appropriate beach flags
preparing proper rescue equipment according to the conditions
dealing with missing/found persons, including lost children or vulnerable people
performing necessary rescue responses
handling first aid situations and providing help to injured people
liaising with the coastguard about emergency situations
logging incidents or hazards and completing written reports
performing educational outreach and delivering safety advice at RNLI events or in classrooms
Key skills for lifeguarding
Some of the skills that enable lifeguards to be effective in their role include:
strong written and verbal communication
a valid driver's licence, in some instances
Tips for becoming a beach lifeguard
Here are some tips to consider if you would like to become a beach lifeguard:
Commit to physical training
The role's physical demands are a significant aspect of the application process. In addition to having a strong CV, completing your swimming and running tests in the allotted time is essential to be eligible to work as a beach lifeguard. Structure and devote enough time to your physical training, and maintain a good level of physical fitness. Make sure you can pass the fitness assessments before handing in your application.
Consider when to apply
Try to apply early on. The RNLI typically accepts applications for beach lifeguarding roles at the beginning of each year, although some positions may still be open up to the start of the season. Work schedules can be casual and flexible, but the RNLI typically needs lifeguards during peak season. If it's your first lifeguard role, you may have a better chance of securing employment if you apply to work at this time.
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