What Is the Difference Between a Water Watcher and a Lifeguard?

There are various lifeguard programs available.  In general, swimming pool lifeguards take a course between 25-30 hours that include classroom learning (or online learning) and skills practice.  Lifeguard students have to show proficiency in water rescues, CPR and first aid to obtain a certification.  For the water watcher course, we provide 30 minutes of basic information and do not have any skill requirements for completion.  The table below outlines some of the main similarities and differences:


  • Both provide patron surveillance and supervision in and around a body of water.
  • Both can enforce pool rules and direct patrons to stop engaging in risky behavior.
  • Both should be identifiable.
  • If empowered to do so by the facility or organization operating the venue, both may close the facility for safety reasons and usher patrons out of the venue.  Reasons may include but are not limited to facility closures for inclement weather, fecal contamination, equipment failure, vandalism, etc.
  • Both may assist a distressed swimmer or drowning victim.
  • Both should call for help and EMS when necessary.
  • Both should not perform any rescue or resuscitation effort beyond their level of training and physical ability.


  • Lifeguards are trained, certified and expected to perform full rescues and resuscitation efforts per their level of training and duty to respond.  In contrast, Water Watchers are not certified to perform full rescues, perform CPR and do not have a legal duty to respond.  At a minimum, Water Watchers should be ready and willing to call for help, to signal a lifeguard or another capable adult to assist with a distressed swimmer or drowning victim.  There is no requirement to get directly involved beyond that for a Water Watcher. If a Water Watcher has received additional training and is willing to assist a distressed swimmer or drowning victim, they may do so at their own risk.
  • Lifeguards are employees or volunteers of the venue or an organization and should be covered under the facility’s or organization’s insurance.  Water Watchers are typically volunteers and not covered by facility or organization insurance. If Water Watchers are used at a facility to provide surveillance, they may be deputized by the board of directors for the venue, and as such may be able to avail themselves of some insurance benefit.  Consult with your local insurance agent and attorney for clarification on what level of coverage might be available.  
  • Water Watchers are not trained to perform water rescues or resuscitation, but can assist lifeguards as needed as a ready bystander.
  • Depending on the jurisdiction, Water Watchers may not have a duty to act and could fall under the Good Samaritan laws.  Please check with an attorney for guidance.