Can you trust lifeguard watching your child?

Subtle signs a pool lifeguard is not well-trained

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – How do you know the lifeguard who is watching your child in the pool has what it takes to save your child if they get in trouble in the water?

There are warning signs you can spot to tell if lifeguards aren't as well-trained as they should be:

According to the YMCA, a lifeguard's head should move from side-to-side to show he or she is scanning the pool while on duty.

"You want to be moving your eyes from the bottom to the middle to the surface to make sure there is no one on the bottom, middle or surface of the water," explained YMCA lifeguard instructor Stephen Morton.

Lifeguards should never be talking to anyone else while they're sitting in a chair.  It's too distracting. 

"We have signs posted asking patrons not to talk to the lifeguards," Morton said. "They should be concentrating on scanning the pool and not on the conversation."

Not only should lifeguards have an emergency plan in place, but they should routinely practice what they would do if someone gets into trouble in the water. 

Questions parents should ask include:

  • What is the plan?
  • Are the lifeguards trained in CPR?
  • Who will call 911?
  • Is there an automated external defibrillator in case someone has a heart attack on the pool deck?
  • Do the lifeguards know where the AED is located and how to use it?

YMCA pools have a "no breath holding" policy. Swimmers are asked not to play games that require them to hold their breath for long times under the water, so lifeguards know if someone is under the water for more than a few seconds, they need help and it's not just a game.

Lifeguards should rotate out of the chair every 30 minutes or so to help keep them fresh and alert.

Lifeguards should not be crossing their legs or slouching in the chair. They should always look attentive, sitting forward and watching intently, added Morton.

Another question to ask is whether lifeguards are certified.

YMCA lifeguards are required to take a 36-hour class, which includes in class, pool and online training. As part of the training, they are routinely tested and their responses are timed. If they fail the tests, they are given extra training until they get it right.

The Red Cross also offers a lifeguard training class.

YMCA swim instructor Cindi Partee cautioned that some community pools might offer in-house training for lifeguards, but "that does not mean they are certified."

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