Careers advice

How to become a lifeguard in NZ

Lifeguarding is a challenging but highly rewarding profession.

Last updated: 4 April 2024

In Aotearoa, we’re a nation of water lovers. But while we associate our pools, lakes, rivers and beaches with fun and relaxation, there’s no getting away from the fact that entering the water can be dangerous.

As a result, in many of these settings, we rely on lifeguards to keep us safe and to intervene if we get into difficulties. This means there are plenty of lifeguard jobs available in every corner of the country, for those interested in taking on this challenging yet rewarding profession.

But how do you become a lifeguard in Aotearoa New Zealand? Here, we’ll take a look at the options available, the tickets you’ll need, some soft skills that will help you on your way, and the career-building transferable attributes you’ll gain from the role.

What you need to be a lifeguard in NZ

There are a few different types of lifeguard jobs in NZ, each with different requirements. Let’s explore a couple of the most common.

How to become a pool lifeguard in NZ

You’ll be unsurprised to learn that not anyone can wander into a pool in Aotearoa and join up as a lifeguard on the spot. You need to meet a few criteria first. Most importantly, you’ll need:

  • To be 16 years old on the day you start your training.
  • To hold a current first aid certificate.
  • To complete a course which will typically have both a theory and practical assessment at the end that you’ll need to pass.
  • To pass some physical tests – for example, swimming set lengths using different strokes within a defined time period.

The minimum qualification you can have to work as a pool lifeguard in NZ is the Pool Lifeguard Practising Certificate (PLPC). Once you’ve done the training and assessments outlined above to attain your PLPC, you’ll typically then conduct some further in-role validation. This may involve further requirements such as writing a health and safety assessment and maintaining a Pool Lifeguard Logbook.

Once you have your PLPC, your registration will be secured with the New Zealand Register of Recreation Professionals. You’ll have to re-register every two years.

Being pool lifeguard is quite different to being a beach lifeguard.

How to become a Surf Lifeguard in NZ

Before we get into this, a quick note. Many of the Surf Lifeguards you’ll see on the beaches of Aotearoa’s are volunteers giving up their time to help keep their fellow Kiwi safe. There are paid roles available with Surf Life Saving (SLS), but it’s important to know that you may also see volunteer positions advertised which, of course, won’t be paid.

Of course, there’s also heaps to be gained from volunteering as a Surf Lifeguard. Not only will you be performing a valuable service for your local community, you’ll also pick up a heap of transferable skills, as we’ll demonstrate below.

To become a Surf Lifeguard in NZ, you’ll need to be over 14 years old, able to swim already and to complete the Surf Lifeguard Award.

The Surf Lifeguard Award is achieved by participating in and completing a two-day training course.. In total, the course is approximately 25 hours, and is mostly taught in a practical environment. However, there are some theory modules to complete as well.

At the end of the training, there’s an assessment to pass, which involves:

  • Completing a 400m pool swim within 9 minutes.
  • Performing a 200m run/swim/run in ocean conditions.
  • Demonstrating tube rescue proficiency in both surf and pool settings.
  • Passing CPR & First Aid assessments.
  • Successfully completing a radio setup and signals evaluation.
  • Achieving a pass score on the theory test.

What you’ll learn by becoming a lifeguard

Becoming a lifeguard isn't just about mastering water safety; it equips you with a diverse set of transferable skills applicable to any future career you may have:

1. Communication skills

Whether it's providing instructions to swimmers, coordinating with fellow lifeguards, or interacting with pool patrons, effective communication is key. You'll learn to convey information clearly and concisely, ensuring everyone understands safety protocols and procedures.

2. Decision making

As a lifeguard, In critical moments, when swift action is required to ensure the safety of others, you'll learn to assess risks, weigh options, and make sound judgments promptly. This ability to remain calm and composed in high-stakes situations is a valuable asset that transcends lifeguarding, serving you well in both personal and professional spheres.

Knowing when to take action is key as a lifeguard.

3. Leadership

Lifeguards are in positions of authority, responsible for enforcing rules, coordinating rescue efforts, and guiding others during emergencies. Through leading by example and inspiring confidence in your team, you'll develop the leadership qualities necessary to motivate and empower others in any collaborative endeavour.

4. Teamwork

You'll also acquire valuable teamwork skills as part of a lifeguarding team. Collaboration is paramount in maintaining a safe environment, whether it's coordinating rotations for surveillance or executing synchronised rescue procedures. Learning to work cohesively with diverse individuals towards a common goal lays the foundation for successful teamwork in any setting.

5. Responsibility and accountability

Lifeguarding instils a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. You'll recognize the weight of ensuring the safety and well-being of others entrusted to your care. This heightened sense of duty cultivates reliability and integrity, qualities that garner respect and trust in any professional or personal relationship.

6. Resilience

Working as a lifeguard will also foster adaptability and resilience. No two days are the same, and you'll encounter a variety of challenges that demand flexibility and quick adaptability. Whether working with changing weather conditions, responding to unexpected emergencies, or accommodating diverse patrons' needs, you'll learn to thrive in dynamic environments and overcome obstacles with grace and calm.

7. Empathy and compassion

Finally, becoming a lifeguard cultivates empathy and compassion. You'll interact with individuals from various backgrounds and abilities, each with unique needs and concerns. You'll develop empathy, understanding in the course of your work, and the ability to connect with others on a deeper level, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment wherever you go.

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Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.