DCR Lifeguard Certification Course Prerequisites

Are You Ready to Take a Lifeguarding Course?

Not everyone is ready to take a lifeguarding course, including strong athletes in sports other than swimming. Persons who are not on swim team or who do not regularly swim laps in a pool for at least 10 minutes without stopping may need extra time preparing for the class.

While the pre-course entry skills are not difficult for those who swim regularly, they may be challenging for those that do not. In considering whether your swimming skills are sufficient for entry into a lifeguarding course, ask yourself:

  • When I go swimming, do I swim laps for fitness or do I typically splash around in standing-depth water with friends? Most people who say they can swim simply mean they feel comfortable splashing around in shallow water and maybe even venturing into deep water without sinking to the bottom. Lifeguards need to be able to do much more than this. Lifeguards must be able to swim comfortably 100-550 yards (300-1650 feet) without stopping or standing.
  • Do I typically swim laps with my face in the water? Experience shows that casual swimmers who typically swim with their head above the water will be challenged to complete the lifeguarding course prerequisites let alone the course and subsequent DCR timed swim test. You must be able to swim with your face and eyes in the water to enroll in a lifeguarding course.
  • Do I turn my head to the side to breathe? Candidates will need to demonstrate a comfort level in the water with rhythmic breathing. Rhythmic breathing is breathing, typically to the side (rotary breathing), in a regular sequence or cadence (e.g. every second stroke), breathing out when their face is underwater and breathing in when the head turns to the side.
  • Do I know how to do the breaststroke (or elementary backstroke) kick? Rescue skills will require the use of a breaststroke or elementary backstroke kick. Persons who only know how to flutter kick (move their legs straight up and down) will likely have difficulty entering the course or completing course requirements. The flutter kick is not an efficient rescue kick.
  • Do I know how to do the sidestroke? The sidestroke is a requirement for entry into a YMCA lifeguarding course. Additionally, certain skills taught in the Red Cross Lifeguarding program will employ a sidestroke kick.
  • Am I comfortable submerging seven to twelve feet underwater? Lifeguards will be required to perform a surface dive to a depth of 7 - 12 feet. This is typically done via a feet-first surface dive. If you struggle to submerge to the bottom of a deep pool (e.g. high school pool), you may not be ready for a lifeguarding class.
  • Can I swim 15 yards underwater at a depth of 4 to 7 feet deep? Candidates for waterfront areas must demonstrate competency swimming underwater at depth. Lifeguards at waterfront areas are responsible for conducting underwater searches for missing swimmers. If you are not used to swimming 45 feet underwater on one breath, you will likely need to practice this skill.

If you answered YES to all these questions, then you may be ready for a lifeguarding class!

To find classes in your area, contact the Pool & Waterfront Safety contact for your region. To be eligible for free training, you must work with your regional PWS contact who will enroll you in a course with one of DCR’s authorized training providers.

Boston   |   North   |   South   |   Central   |    West

Where can I go for skill development?

It is common for people to need some extra practice time to strengthen their skills before taking a lifeguarding class. Many of our training partners, including the Boston Centers for Youth & Families, allow DCR lifeguard course candidates to use the swimming pool at no cost in advance of an upcoming certification course. Some may offer candidates some degree of instruction from a qualified instructor. Many also offer adult swimming lesson programs for an additional cost. If you feel you would benefit from additional skill development, please speak with the DCR Pool & Waterfront Safety contact for your specific region (Boston, North, South, Central, West). They will be happy to try to answer your questions and help you find options to prepare for an upcoming lifeguarding class.

Boston   |   North   |   South   |   Central   |    West

Table of Contents

American Red Cross Lifeguarding Prerequisite Skills

Swimming

Treading Water

Timed Event

Pools

Swim 300 yards, continuously demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing. Candidates may swim using the front crawl, breaststroke or a combination of both, but swimming on the back or side is not allowed. Swim goggles may be used.

Tread water for 2 minutes, using only the legs. Candidates should place their hands under their armpits.

This will be done in deep water (over 7 feet deep).

Complete a timed event within 1 minute and 40 seconds:

  • Starting in the water, swim 20 yards. Swim goggles are not allowed.
  • Surface dive, feet-first or head-first, to a depth of 7 to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object.
  • Return to the surface and swim 20 yards on the back to return to the starting point with both hands holding the object and keeping the face at or near the surface to breathe (or to get a breath).
  • Exit the water without using a ladder or steps.

Waterfronts

Swim 550 yards, continuously demonstrating breath control and rhythmic breathing. Candidates may swim using the front crawl, breaststroke or a combination of both, but swimming on the back or side is not allowed. Swim goggles may be used.

Additional Prerequisite:

Swim 5 yards, submerge and retrieve three dive rings placed 5 yards apart in 4 to 7 feet of water, resurface and continue to swim another 5 yards to complete the skill sequence. Swim goggles may not be used.

Tread water for 2 minutes, using only the legs. Candidates should place their hands under their armpits.

This will be done in deep water (over 7 feet deep).

Complete a timed event within 1 minute and 40 seconds:

  • Starting in the water, swim 20 yards. Swim goggles are not allowed.
  • Surface dive, feet-first or head-first, to a depth of 7 to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object.
  • Return to the surface and swim 20 yards on the back to return to the starting point with both hands holding the object and keeping the face at or near the surface to breathe (or to get a breath).

YMCA Lifeguarding Prerequisite Skills

Swimming

Treading Water

Other

  1. Swim 100 yards (300 feet) of front crawl.
  2. Swim 50 yards (150 feet) of each:
  • Sidestroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Elementary backstroke
  1. Complete feet-first surface dive and swim a distance of 15 feet underwater.

Tread water for 2 minutes – use legs only.

  1. Perform 60-foot sprint, then do a head-first surface dive to retrieve object at the bottom of pool and hold at surface treading for 1 minute.
  2. Submerge to the bottom using a feet-first surface dive, replace the object on the bottom of the pool where it was found, and return to the surface.
  3. Swim the remaining length to end of pool and hoist yourself out of water.
  4. Perform compressions on an adult manikin and follow directions of the instructor.

Contact   for DCR Lifeguard Certification Course Prerequisites

Help Us Improve Mass.gov  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.
Feedback