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About lifeguards and the lifeguard service

RNLI lifeguards now patrol over 200 beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. Last year, they responded to 14,519 incidents and assisted 16,414 people.

Our aim is to expand our lifeguarding service, so that every region that needs lifeguard cover on its beaches has seasonal patrols. 

RNLI lifeguards return to Devon beaches for the peak summer season

Two out of three people in the UK will head to the seaside at least once this year.

Most beach goers will have an enjoyable and relaxing time. But every year, around 7,000 of them get into serious difficulties.

So when something goes wrong, who can help?

RNLI lifeboat volunteers or search and rescue helicopter crews can respond within minutes, and often save lives close to the shore. But sometimes, at the beach, seconds count.

For the best chance of survival, you need someone on the beach who can see the dangers develop: someone who can prevent accidents before they happen and respond instantly if they occur. Ninety five per cent of a good lifeguard's work is preventative.

We'll never know how many lives have already been saved by their vigilance. But you can help by checking our beach safety advice.

New season starts for RNLI Lifeguards in Norfolk

RNLI lifeguards are qualified in lifesaving and casualty care, highly trained, strong and fit. They must be able to swim 200m in under 3½ minutes, and run 200m on sand in under 40 seconds.

However, a good lifeguard rarely gets wet – 95% of a lifeguard's work is preventative. The lifeguards monitor sea conditions and set up the appropriate flags, watch the people on the beach and offer safety advice both on the beach and in classrooms through our education programmes.

Volunteer lifeguards

Most RNLI lifeguards are paid by the relevant local authority to maintain patrols on our busiest beaches. But we also have volunteer lifeguards. Some are young or newly qualified lifeguards gaining experience, while others just enjoy helping out in their spare time.

We also have Lifeguard Support Volunteers, who help the lifeguards with land-based duties, such as lookout, radio communications and casualty care. 

​A lifeguard's most important piece of equipment is himself or herself. A lifeguard must be fit, fast and strong – able to swim 200m in under 3½ minutes and run 200m on sand in under 40 seconds.

But we have given them some tools to help them on the job:

Image of lifeguards launching an Arancia. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Arancia Inshore Rescue Boat

Operated by two lifeguards, the Arancia is a surf rescue boat, powered by a 30hp engine with full propeller guard. At the RNLI, we build our own Arancias at our Inshore Lifeboat Centre on the Isle of Wight. Though designed especially for the heavy surf conditions our lifeguards work in, an Arancia is also on duty at Criccieth Lifeboat Station in north Wales.​

Image of a rescue watercraft. Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Rescue watercraft (RWC)

The RWC is a modified personal watercraft (like a jetski) with a rescue sled. It has great acceleration, speed and manoeuvrability, and can be safely operated in very shallow waters. It has enough fixed internal buoyancy to remain floating in the event of a hull breach.​

Image of a patrol vehicle. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Patrol vehicle

The four-wheel-drive patrol vehicle allows lifeguards to be at the water's edge for long periods, reducing their response time. It also provides the public with a contact point near the water.​

Image of an all-terrain vehicle. Photo: Simon Gator

All-terrain vehicle (quad)

The four-wheel-drive capability of the quad allows quick response to incidents across the softest of sand. With good manoeuvrability and all-round visibility, it can be used on the busiest of beaches. ​

Image of a rescue board. Photo: RNLI/Greg Spray

Rescue board

Based on a surfboard, the rescue board is a lifeguard’s primary rescue tool. Most rescues are carried out within 100m of the shore, and this can be the quickest to respond in most conditions. The board is designed to cope with large surf, and it is possible to surf in with casualty onboard.​

Image of a rescue tube. Photo: Julian Calverley

Rescue tube

The traditional lifeguard's friend, the rescue tube can be strapped around an unconscious casualty, aiding flotation and allowing deep-water resuscitation to be performed. A lifeguard must be a strong swimmer to tow a patient in with a rescue tube.​

Image of VHF radio.

VHF radio

Ideal for the harsh beach environment, these handheld VHF radios are fully waterproof to a depth of 1m.​

Image of binoculars. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Binoculars

Tough and durable, these binoculars are designed with the beach environment in mind, allowing the lifeguard a closer look at a situation far away.​

Image of a first aid kit. Photo: Nigel Millard

First aid kit

These kits are lightweight and can be carried by lifeguards on general patrol, enabling them to respond immediately to many types of first aid incidents.​

Defibrillator

A defibrillator is used to administer an electric shock through the chest to the heart, to restore normal heart rhythm in cardiac arrest victims. ​

Video 1 of 4: Video 1 of 4: What is it like to be a lifeguard? Two new recruits share their thoughts after a busy season at Perrenporth Beach, Cornwall.

Video 2 of 4: Video 2 of 4: An interview with Newquay professional surfer and RNLI lifeguard, Egor Harris.

Video 3 of 4: Video 3 of 4: An interview with RNLI Lifeguard and professional surfer, Tom Butler.

Video 4 of 4: Video 4 of 4: Interview with RNLI lifeguard and crew member, Rory Bushe.

Lifeguard giving advice. Photo: Julian Calverley

In many ways, it's a dream job – spending your working hours on the beach, with the possibility of being a lifesaver.

But there's a lot more to being an RNLI lifeguard than fun on the sand. You must hold and maintain a valid surf lifesaving qualification, pass regular fitness and competency tests through our lifeguard training, and be willing and able to take on the responsibility of keeping hundreds, perhaps thousands, of beachgoers safe.

Have you got what it takes?
If you're a qualified lifeguard and want to put your lifesaving skills to good use, check our recruitment site for seasonal and volunteering opportunities.