5 Ways for Lifeguards to Avoid Distractions, Improve Scanning

Lifeguard Scanning

As a lifeguard, your job is pretty straightforward: keep swimmers safe at the pool. On a normal day, this means you’ll be at your lifeguard station scanning the water for most of your shift, identifying any potential dangers and signs of trouble.

Yet looking at the water for a few hours straight can get pretty tiring — not to mention boring, especially if things are running smoothly and you don’t have much to do. How can you stay alert and avoid distractions throughout your entire shift?

1. Get a good night’s sleep.
Fatigue is a major cause of getting distracted or sleepy during your shift. Make sure you are well rested and hydrated before work. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can alter your mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly. Since alcohol and caffeine can make dehydration worse, stick to water so that you can spend your energy scanning the pool, instead of fighting to keep your eyes open at your station.

2. Shift positions.
Sitting in one place for a long time can make anyone restless. Moving around or shifting in the chair can help, especially if there’s glare or you’re having trouble judging the depth of any part of the pool because of the way you’re positioned. If necessary, let your supervisor know that you need to reposition your stand to get a better viewpoint. Swapping stands with your fellow guards can also help keep you alert as you rotate to different positions around the pool. A new viewpoint can help you stay mentally fresh.

3. Keep yourself covered.
It’s great being outside instead of stuck in a stale office all day, but the weather can be unpredictable. Make sure you prepare for everything — heat, sun, rain, thunderstorms, and even hurricanes. Keep an umbrella on hand, apply sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and have water close by at all times to drink during your shift. If you’re ready for anything, you won’t get stuck being uncomfortable at your station.

4. Leave your phone inside.
Most pools won’t allow you to bring your phone with you to your station, knowing how hard it is to resist the urge to look down and check when a text or alert pops up. In fact, one study showed that one in four lifeguards has texted while on duty. This is alarming because people can drown in the amount of time it takes to read a text message and respond to it. Even if your job doesn’t forbid it, leave your phone inside with your other belongings, and wait until your break to use it. That goes for books, too, and anything else that pulls your focus away from the pool.

5. Stay mentally alert.
Often, the biggest distractions for a lifeguard are your own thoughts. You may be thinking, what are my friends doing? What’s for dinner tonight? Should I ask out that girl or guy I like? What else do I need to accomplish this summer? A study on distractions faced by lifeguards refers to this as “internal noise.” To lifeguard effectively, you’ll need to clear your mind of any mental distractions. It takes practice to learn to control a wandering mind — regularly doing small exercises like shifting in your chair or counting people around the pool can help you stay focused and alert.

Most lifeguard training includes learning effective scanning strategies. Your supervisors will discuss many ways to keep you and your lifeguard team alert. Then it’s up to you to keep distractions at bay so you can keep swimmers safe.

Interested in a summer lifeguarding job? Check out American Pool’s Guard for Life website for more information about how to train, apply, and get started.

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