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Finding those elusive aquatics staff: the lowdown on lifeguards.

An application comes across your desk for a staff member who has been a lifeguard at a community pool for the past two summers. Enclosed with the application are photocopies of her certifications, which include American Red Cross Lifeguard Training; American Red Cross First Aid Training; and American Heart Association Community CPR, AED, and O2 certification. WOW! This looks great--a staff applicant with all the certifications to work at the pool and on the waterfront.

As if hiring staff wasn't challenging enough--interpreting the standards and the certifications required for waterfront and aquatics staff adds another dimension that you need to consider as you wade through applications. As the staff recruiter, do you know what to look for and what to ask when hiring aquatics staff? Do you just look to see if the person is certified, make the decision to hire, and worry about it later? What certifications are required for swimming, canoeing, waterskiing, windsurfing, SCUBA, and sailing? Will a lifeguard certification be enough or is a different set of skills or certification required?

When identifying staff for your aquatic environment keep these things in mind:

* Is the applicant appropriately and currently certified for the aquatic activity for which you are considering them?

* If the applicant is certified, is the certification approved by the American Camping Association (ACA) in meeting the aquatics standards?

* Is the applicant strong in one or more areas of aquatics, and could he or she be certified in the appropriate area before camp starts?

Appropriate Certifications

What certifications fit for each particular aquatic area? Will a lifeguard suffice for your waterfront director or sailing instructor--or is there more to it than that?

ACA has a set of standards which applies specifically to aquatics. Which of the following aquatics staff positions apply to your waterfront?

Aquatics Supervisor

The ACA standard for Aquatics Supervisor Qualifications PA-1 stipulates that the camp should have an overall supervisor for the waterfront who must meet three requirements:

1. He or she needs to hold or have held an approved certification in lifeguard training or swim instruction (such as Water Safety Instruction [WSI] or AUSTSWIM) or be an instructor or instructor trainer from a boating or watercraft organization or hold an equivalent certification.

2. He or she needs to have at least six weeks of previous experience in a management or supervisory position at a similar aquatic area or have completed additional aquatics management or supervision training. In other words, if your staff member has experience in training and supervision in a pool facility but will be working on your lakefront, he or she doesn't necessarily have the appropriate experience in "a similar aquatic area."

What can you do? The American Red Cross provides a lifeguard management course and a waterfront module that will help meet this part of the requirement. Other organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA also have aquatic management courses.

3. He or she needs to be at least twenty-one years of age, although this is the least important of the three requirements.


The ACA Lifeguard Qualifications standard PA-15A-Mandatory for swimming activities requires certification from a nationally recognized certifying body. Not only do they need to have lifeguard certification, but their training must include standard first aid and CPR for the professional rescuer. Be sure they have all three certifications. Some organizations include the first-aid training on the lifeguard certification card; others hand out separate certification cards. Generally, CPR certifications expire (typically valid for one year) before lifeguard and first-aid certifications (typically valid for three years). Be sure to check that all applicants have all appropriate and current certifications before beginning work with your camp or organization.

The Instructional Swimming (as opposed to recreational swimming) ACA standard PA-19 requires a swim instructor certification from a nationally recognized certifying body and a lifeguard or lookout needs to be out of the water continuously watching over the activity if the instructor is in the water. If you are hiring staff for swimming, make sure you also have certified lifeguards available during instructional time.

Watercraft Supervisor

A watercraft supervisor is different from the aquatics supervisor. Water craft activities include all use of small craft (canoes, rowboats, sailboats, kayaks, windsurfers, etc.) and additional activities such as tubing, water skiing, wake boarding, rafting, etc. According to ACA standard PA-20-Mandatory for Watercraft Supervisor Qualifications--Youth, to supervise each watercraft activity, a staff member must hold one of the following: instructor rating in the appropriate craft from a nationally recognized body or lifeguard training from a nationally recognized certifying body or other acceptable certification or license, such as a rafting guide license. Additionally, the watercraft supervisor must have documented training and/or experience in rescue skills specific to that craft.

Instructional Boating Staff

The ACA standard for Watercraft Instruction PA-26 for instructional boating staff (as opposed to recreational boating staff) requires an instructor rating in the appropriate craft from a nationally recognized certifying body or documentation of experience indicating knowledge and skill in teaching and supervision specific to the activity being conducted. As an example, a staff member who has an instructor rating from the American Canoe Association, or has documented skills indicating his or her experience in canoeing, can teach canoeing but is not appropriately certified to teach sailing.

SCUBA Instructors

The ACA standard for SCUBA Diving PA-18-Mandatory requires SCUBA Instructors to have a current SCUBA Instructor rating from a nationally recognized certifying body.

Current Certification

Most aquatic certifications are valid for a period from one to three years, depending on the certification and the sponsoring body. On the application form or in the interview, ask the applicants when their certification expires and request to see a photocopy of those certifications. If at all possible, they should bring their actual cards or certificates to camp with them.

If lifeguard training is comprised of not only the water rescue skills but also CPR and first aid, it is good practice to make sure your staff have all the appropriate certifications for which they were trained. Common sense would tell the camp director that if a lifeguard is trained in first aid and CPR as part of his or her coursework, and theoretically would be the first to respond to an incident or accident on the water, he or she should hold current certifications in all the skills areas in which he or she was trained.

Forged Certifications

How do you know that the certification your staff member possesses is authentic or that the staff member has the skills the certifications imply? According to Will Evans of Markel Insurance, some camps have run across false certification cards. So how can you be sure that your staff has actual training in the certification they hold? You verify their skills upon arrival at camp and before they begin working with your campers. ACA Standards PA-15 and PA-20 require that the staff have documented skills and training in water rescue and emergency procedures specific to the location and activities. If your staff were trained in a pool (most lifeguards are) and you have a lakefront, the staff need to have participated in specific training in a lake environment.

What to Do about Noncertified Applicants?

Don't hedge your bets and wait for certification approval before deciding on an applicant. The process can sometimes take weeks or even months--depending on the response from the sponsoring agency and review committee. If you have an applicant who is a strong candidate for your aquatic and waterfront environment--with the skills and experience required but no certification--it's not unusual to consider enrolling the applicant in a certification course after hiring and before camp starts.

Recognize that just because a staff member is certified does not guarantee competency in and on the water. Precamp verification and in-service training are crucial to keep your waterfront staff on their toes and practicing their skills. More information on this will follow in the May/June issue of Camping Magazine--"Building Blocks to In-service Aquatic Training."

The waterfront is one of the highest risk areas in camp. Hiring diligent, certified, and competent aquatics staff is the first step in providing the safest aquatics environment possible.

ACA-approved Certifying Organizations

Even if your staff member's certification is current, it may not be approved by the American Camping Association (ACA) to meet aquatic standards. Although there are numerous certifications pertaining to aquatics, ACA generally recognizes only those certifications offering course content and testing that are consistent with nationally and internationally recognized aquatics organizations. Certifications approved by ACA that meet aquatics standards are currently posted to the ACA Web site. Find Web links to the following ACA-approved certifying organizations at

* American Canoe Association

* American Red Cross

* American Sailing Association


* Boy Scouts of America

* British Canoe Union

* Ellis and Associates

* Royal Lifesaving Society

* Starfish Aquatics


* US Sailing

* USA Water Ski Association


If you have a certification that is not listed on the ACA Web site, you can contact the standards department at the ACA national office (765-342-8456 or and request the certification be considered for approval. You need to provide ACA with the certification name, contact information (including telephone, fax, and e-mail) from the sponsoring organization, and a Web site address, if possible. All requests must be made no later than April 15 for consideration for the upcoming summer.

The Bronze Medallion

The Bronze Medallion, a certification of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), was at one time an approved certification for lifeguards. The Bronze Medallion is no longer an approved certification by ACA. Bronze Medallion is a basic lifesaving course and does not include techniques on scanning or spinal management. RLSS recommends only the higher level national certification for a lifeguard with responsibility for others.

Cathy Scheder is currently the manager of learning resources for the American Camping Association (ACA). She has worked in camping for fifteen years, aquatics for seventeen years, is an ARC Lifeguard, and is the aquatics resource staff person at the ACA national office.
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Author:Scheder, Cathy
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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