When you take your children to a pool, the beach, or another water source to swim, you rely on lifeguards to watch the water and protect vulnerable swimmers. However, even good lifeguards can’t always prevent accidents. If someone does get hurt at the pool, how do you know when the lifeguard is liable? And how do you spot a good on-duty lifeguard so you can avoid incidents in the first place?

Read on to learn more about lifeguard duties and liabilities and how to spot a good one at your children’s favorite pool.

How to Determine Lifeguard Liability

Lifeguards have a special duty to protect swimmers. As employees hired to guard a pool, lifeguards must complete all the necessary training and know their responsibilities.

Lifeguard Certifications

Exactly what certifications lifeguards need to have varies across the country. The federal government does not issue any standard requirements, so you’ll need to check your state’s laws. Most every state will require lifeguards to have certifications in CPR and first aid as well as general lifeguard training. Many lifeguards receive standard training and certification in all these areas through the American Red Cross.

Lifeguard Responsibilities

In most states, the general public does not have a legal duty to try and rescue people in danger. When it comes to swimming, other people at the pool do not have to help struggling or injured swimmers. However, the legal system holds lifeguards to a higher standard than the general public.

Because lifeguards have extra training and certification, they have what’s called a “duty to rescue.” You can expect lifeguards to know how to help better than your average passerby. This means if a swimmer gets in trouble, lifeguards are legally required to use their skills correctly and try to save the person in danger. A regular pool-goer isn’t expected to perform CPR. A lifeguard is.

Lifeguards and Good Samaritan Laws

While lifeguards on duty have a responsibility to rescue swimmers and not cause further harm, off-duty lifeguards can fall under “good Samaritan laws.” These laws protect people, especially medical personnel, from being sued if they try to help someone outside their jobs.

Although lifeguards can fall under these provisions, there are some exceptions. For example, conscious adults must give consent for lifeguards to help them. Lifeguards should also ask parents for consent if they need to rescue a child and the parents are available.

If an off-duty lifeguard were to ever rescue your child and cause some sort of injury, you could consult with a personal injury attorney to determine if the lifeguard acted within the bounds of the law.

Lifeguard Liability

Ultimately, lifeguards can be found liable for injury and wrongful death if they do not adequately use their training to save swimmers in trouble. This could mean they ignored or didn’t see a struggling swimmer or did the wrong thing to try and help.

Keep in mind that pools and water sources without lifeguards don’t carry liability the same way they would if they had lifeguards present. For example, hotel pools will often state they don’t have lifeguards on duty, so swimmers should be careful.

How to Recognize a Good Lifeguard

Once you understand lifeguards’ responsibilities, you want the best people on the job to guard your kids at the pool. So how do you know if that teenager on the stand takes the job seriously or is more concerned with a new smartphone app? Watch out for some telltale signs of good lifeguards.


Does the lifeguard at your local pool look awake and intent on the swimmers? Watch out for obvious signs of boredom. If your lifeguard sits slumped over, spaces out, and looks tired, you should find a better lookout.

A good lifeguard will constantly scan the pool to keep an eye on all swimmers and have a rescue tube in hand, ready to go.


Your pool’s lifeguard should not be distracted by conversations with swimmers or other guards. The guard tower does not make a good social scene. If you notice your lifeguard chatting away with other people or watching things other than the pool, talk to the manager.


Lifeguards shouldn’t have to worry about anything but the swimmers in front of them. If your pool requires lifeguards to perform other functions at the same time they should be protecting patrons, find a new pool. Lifeguards should never have to perform administrative duties and watch swimmers simultaneously.

Lifeguards should also have a station right next to the pool. If your pool allows guards to observe from far away or behind glass walls, take your kids to swim elsewhere.

A lifeguard should protect your children at the pool and keep your favorite swimming spot safe. Keep these tips and information in mind the next time you get in the water.