What it takes to be an RNLI Lifeguard

This blog is going to be a personal account of my experience of becoming a lifeguard and how I completed my lifeguard training which led to me gaining employment. This blog will be an honest discussion about how it isn’t for everybody and also why people get into this area of work.

Getting your qualification

Surf Life Saving GB (SLSGB) is the awarding body for the highest standard of Beach Lifeguard qualification in the country. SLSGB has a strategic partnership with the RNLI and SLSGB volunteers work closely with RNLI Beach Lifeguards providing a joint lifeguard service and beach patrol. All SLSGB’s lifesaving qualifications are recognised nationally and internationally and are a qualification of preference for the RNLI professional Lifeguard Service.

SLSGB have a list of accredited training providers who offer 5 day lifesaving courses. I chose Water Skills Academy (WSA) because they are not only based close to where I live but they have an excellent lifesaving training record having offered lifesaving courses since 2000. The beach lifeguard course costs £300 and lasts over five days during which time you will learn first aid, CPR, surf rescue skills and casualty management. Gaining this qualification is the pre-requisite for applying to the RNLI for employment.

The Water Skills Academy lifeguard course is a gold standard course. This course will test your physicality as you are required to swim 400m in a pool under seven minutes and thirty seconds as well as perform a series of water rescues using rescue tubes and boards. You will also be trained to manage a spinal incident and how to extract a casualty as a team member. Having a knowledge of surf and the ocean is advantageous but not essential as the training will introduce you to these aspects.

The course involves a rigorous assessment procedure on the last day by external surf life saving assessors.

Taking your qualification to the RNLI

Gaining your lifesaving qualification is a stepping stone towards employment and I then had to apply for a position with the RNLI. Applications are made via the RNLI website where there is a specially designated section. Demand to work for the RNLI is high for lifeguards with 3 seasonal intakes. There is a rigorous selection process and if successful at interview you will be put through a range of further training courses which covers health and safety, casualty care and what the charity expects from you whilst getting to know the people you will be working with over the summer. Each month you will be expected to prove your physical fitness with further swim tests. By doing this you are encouraged and pushed to keep yourself in great physical condition, so in the case of an emergency the RNLI have full confidence you will be an asset and not an added danger to whatever the situation is.

As an organisation the RNLI will ensure you can become the best lifeguard possible and can help you turn this seasonal job into a career if that is something you want. There is a clear structured pathway from working as a year one rookie through to a senior lifeguard with the pay scale reflecting your years of service.

The RNLI will treat you like family if you are able to prove yourself to the team and ensure you are treated with respect, given opportunity and increase your skills with further courses that they provide.

Why you should become an SLSGB lifeguard

Making the decision to be an SLSGB lifeguard was an easy decision for me to make. I have five members of my immediate family who are lifeguards and it is a dream job for anyone who loves being near the sea, and feels they can take on the large responsibilities that come with this position.

You will make great friends and form a strong bond with the people that you work with, which makes working as a lifeguard that much more enjoyable. You are also protecting the public, which is not something you should take lightly and you learn to take on responsibility that helps shape you as a person, as you learn to anticipate and be vigilant so disasters are avoided and people stay safe.

With three summers under my belt I love the job as I did back when I first began. I have a great network of fellow workmates and my superiors are very approachable and easy to communicate with. To put it bluntly, if you feel you are capable of taking on the role of an SLSGB lifeguard do not hesitate to do so – you will find it very rewarding!