Depending on who you speak with, you'll likely get a lot of different answers to the question. Operators, administrators, head lifeguards, and the public all have their own idea of how many lifeguards a facility needs. Administrators will want staff costs to be as low as possible, while operators are concerned with mitigating risk and ensuring there is enough staff to make schedules work. Head lifeguards and other staff want to have plenty of bodies to have a relatively stress-free shift, and the public wants to see that there are enough lifeguards to create a safe environment. The idea is to meet all of these needs with a number of staff that mitigates risk, is fiscally responsible, meets scheduling needs, and creates a safe and healthy environment.
The standard number for you depends on your lifeguard certification program or the state codes you follow. Some states mandate specific patron-to-lifeguard ratios. At Counsilman-Hunsaker, we like to use the general rule of one guard per 1,500 sq. ft. of traditional pool space, and one guard per 800 sq. ft. of free form pool space. This doesn’t provide a specific number, but usually gets an accurate estimate, or at the bare minimum, a decent starting point.
Once you have a starting point, there are other factors that go into deciding how many lifeguards are needed at your facility, such as:
- Minimum number of lifeguards necessary to perform rescues
- Regular and peak patron attendance
- Site attractions and manufacturer recommendations for those attractions
- Special events or swim meets
- Blind spots due to pool shape or attractions
- Other programs or activities
- Lifeguard “breaks”
It's generally not recommended to have less than two trained lifeguards on duty at any facility. This usually means one lifeguard on stand, and the other one down. This allows for the lifeguard down to take care of secondary duties, and act as backup in case of an emergency. This number should be increased accordingly to provide safe oversight of the facility and programs.
Activities like swim meets or water aerobics may not necessitate additional lifeguards, as the participants are active swimmers. But programs like swim lessons, dive-in movies, or birthday parties may require additional eyes as there is a larger number of swimmers in the water. While parents should be in the water assisting with safety and participating with their children when programs allow, they also like to see that there are multiple eyes providing a safe environment for their children.
Many attractions also have minimum staffing recommendations for their operation. Most operation and maintenance manuals will address staffing needs. Some require hard line minimums, while others offer suggestions for safe operation.
The final part of the equation is to add as many lifeguards as necessary to create breaks in your rotation. Whether it’s every 30 minutes or every 90 minutes, breaks are an important part of keeping lifeguards vigilant on stand, and is often an aspect missed when planning staffing levels.
Once the standard number of lifeguards is established, the operator should be flexible enough to adjust staffing as needs change. Counsilman-Hunsaker offers facility audit services that can help your facility save staffing costs while ensuring adequate lifeguard coverage of your aquatic facility.