Become a Lifeguard and Swim Instructor

Getting certified is the first step towards working as an aquatics leader. After you have finished your courses, you will be a certified National Lifeguard and/or a Swim Instructor and eligible to apply to work at the YMCA (and many other organizations that recognize our Lifesaving Society credentials). Throughout the aquatic leadership courses, you will receive the knowledge you need to guard or teach effectively and you will also have opportunities to increase your leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

New Summer 2023 The YMCA Lifeguard Leadership Academy opening in Centre Branch YMCA. This training academy is to grow our new leaders with independence and opportunities to use their skills. We have dedicated classrooms and pool set ups to help our candidates and leaders have an exceptional experience geared for them and their success.

Register Today!

Lifesaving Society is the national governing organization for lifeguard standards. The YMCA conducts their courses to certify candidates to be ready to work confidently as a lifeguard. Below is the order the courses must* be taken to gain the foundational knowledge before moving onto advanced rescue techniques.

*Standard First Aid & CPR-C (SFA) can be taken before any course, and a prerequisite for National Lifeguard. Some courses may be combined for timing or pool space availability.

1. Bronze Medallion
Bronze Medallion
This program teaches an understanding of the lifesaving principles embodied in the four components of water-rescue education: judgment, knowledge, skill, and fitness. Rescuers learn tows and carries, defense methods, and releases in preparation for challenging rescues of increased risk. Lifesavers develop stroke efficiency and endurance in a 400m timed swim.
Prerequisite: Participants must be a minimum of 13 years of age by end of course OR have Bronze Star certification.
2. Bronze Cross
Bronze Cross
This program starts the transition from lifesaving to lifeguarding and prepares candidates for responsibilities as an assistant Lifeguard.  Candidates will strengthen and expand their lifesaving skills and begin to apply the principles and techniques of active surveillance in aquatic facilities.  Bronze Cross emphasizes the importance of teamwork and communication in preventing and responding to aquatic emergencies.  
Prerequisite is Bronze Medallion and Emergency First Aid with CPR-B or Standard First Aid with CPR-C (need not be current).
3. Standard First Aid
Standard First Aid
Standard First Aid provides comprehensive training covering all aspects of first aid and CPR.  Standard First Aid incorporates all of Emergency First Aid and is designed for those who require a more in-depth understanding of first aid including: legal implications of first aid treatment, spinal injuries, heat or cold injuries, bone and joint injuries, chest injuries, and medical emergencies.  Includes CPR-C Certification.
4. National Lifeguard
National Lifeguard
This course is required to become a certified lifeguard. You learn various lifesaving techniques and take part in practical situations.
This certification is current for 2 years and is recertified by completing a National Lifeguard Recertification Exam.
Prerequisite: Bronze Cross, Current Standard First Aid with CPR 'C', 15 years of age and older. Please note there is an additional charge for the manual.
5. Swim Instructor
Swim Instructor
The Lifesaving Society Swim Instructor course prepares the instructor to teach and evaluate the swimming strokes and related skills found in the Lifesaving Society Swim for Life program.  Candidates acquire proven teaching methods, planning skills, and a variety of stroke development drills and correction techniques.
Required References: Swim Instructor Pack (includes Instructor Manual, Swim for Life Award Guide, Teaching Swim for Life and Leadership Binder)
Prerequisites: 15 years of age by the end of the course, Bronze Cross (need not be current)
6. Lifesaving Instructor
Lifesaving Instructor
The Lifesaving Instructor course prepared instructors to teach the Lifesaving Society’s Canadian Swim Patrol Program, Bronze Star, Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross, Lifesaving Fitness, Distinction, CPR-A, CPR-B, CPR-C, Basic and Emergency First Aid.
Required References: Lifesaving Instructor Pack (includes Instructor Manual, Swim Patrol Award Guide, Bronze Medals Award Guide, First Aid Award Guide, Leadership Binder)
  • 100% attendance is required at all courses to be a successful candidate
  • Must provide proof of prerequisites on the first day of class
  • Candidates are to conduct themselves using YMCA values
  • Curriculum for each course can be found here under Test Sheets


Frequently Asked Questions

How old do I have to be to become a lifeguard and swim instructor?

Candidates can start the courses when they are 13 years old but must be 15 years old by the last day of the National Lifeguard course to qualify. 

Legally, as of June 2023 Ontario requires Lifeguards and Swim Instructors to be 15 years old to work. The YMCA of Southwestern Ontario’s employment policy in June 2023 is a minimum of 16 years old to be an employee. Applicants are welcome to apply within 2 months of their 16th birthday.

How do I become a Swim Instructor?

Prerequisites for the Swim Instructor courses are Bronze Cross (need not be current) AND, Standard First Aid with CPR-C AND minimum 15 years old by or on the last day of the course. (See course order above for the steps to complete prerequisites.)
Although Bronze Cross need not be current to take the course, to work the candidate must have a current Bronze Cross OR National Lifeguard certificate.

There are 2 Swim Programs running within the Southwestern Ontario region – 
Lifesaving Society’s (LSS) Swim for Life and YMCA’s Learn to Swim.

It would be ideal to be certified in both programs by taking both the YMCA and Lifesaving Society swim instructor courses. There are 2 YMCA of Southwestern Ontario branches that run the LSS swim program – Stoney Creek (North London) and (SW London). All other branches run the YMCA swim program. Depending on where the candidate would work is which swim instructor course they should aim to do.

All YMCA of SWO branches will accept Lifesaving Society’s Swim Instructor certificate.

How do I find a course being offered?

Click the ‘Register Today’ button above to see what is being offered.

You can email to inquire.
You can phone your local branch by finding their contact information here

How much does it cost to become a lifeguard?

The YMCA offers member** & non-member fees for courses, PLUS volunteers get a 100% discount on courses.
**Members at the Everything Membership category, have leadership courses included with their membership.

Financial assistance is available; inquire with your local branch’s Aquatics supervisor.
Some of these courses also require manuals that range from $40-$95; some manuals can be borrowed from the YMCA instead of purchased.

Course YMCA Membership – Everything Category YMCA Membership – Essential or Enhanced Not a member of the YMCA
Bronze Medallion & Emergency First Aid Included $120 $150
Bronze Cross Included $100 $120
Standard First Aid & CPR-C Included $80 $100
National Lifeguard Included $220 $250
YMCA Swim Instructor Included $100 $150
Lifesaving Society Swim Instructor & Lifesaving Instructor Included $228 $285

*All prices do not include HST; prices as at January 2023
[Courses may be offered in various combinations, i.e. LSS Swim & Lifesaving Instructor, which will affect the price at registration.]

The National Lifeguard certificate is valid for 2 years, and Standard First Aid is valid for 3 years from the dates of completion. If you are a YMCA employee when recertification is required, we will cover the cost of the certification as well as pay you your time to take the recertification. The course must be with a YMCA branch to cover that cost.

How do I become a volunteer?

Becoming a volunteer at the YMCA is a great preparation for job seeking in the future! You start by filling out the application form here.

Once contacted by the “hiring” manager, you will have an interview and the manager will check 3 references. Once “on-boarded” you will get complete building orientation, volunteer job description, and start in your volunteer role. 

We ask that volunteers commit to 2 hours a week. Volunteers are eligible for a free YMCA membership after 3 months.

Aquatic volunteers should have their Bronze Cross (may accept medallion) and must be 14 years old; most volunteers are guaranteed a position with us once they are old enough and certified. It is a great way to get high school volunteer hours and looks great on a resume!

What are the requirements for the course(s)?

Here is a general idea of what to expect in each course. All courses have more than what is listed here.

Course Prerequisites Physical Knowledge Skill
Bronze Medallion 13 years old by the last day of the course. Head up Swimming
25m carrying victim
400 m swim in 12 minutes
The Lifesaving Society
Drowning Chain of Survival
Cold Water
Rescue Process
Recognizing victims
Entering the water & removing
Towing and Carrying victims
Swimming stroke skills
Bronze Cross Bronze Medallion and Standard First Aid & CPR-C (preferred) or Emergency First Aid & CPR-B Weighted object recovery from bottom & carry
Head Up swimming 20 m, carry victim back 
400 m swim in 11 minutes
Non-fatal drowning
Shallow Water Blackout
Assistant lifeguard roles & responsibilities
Communication and working with others
Surface dives
Spinal Injury Management
Standard First Aid None, but 13 years old by the last day of the course is preferred. Ability to perform CPR Circulatory Emergencies
Respiratory Emergencies
Broken bones
Head & Spinal Injuries
Heat Emergencies
Calling EMS
Victim & Rescuer communication
National Lifeguard 15 years old by the last day of the course AND Bronze Cross AND Standard First Aid & CPR-C 20lb object recovery and carry
Head up 50m in 60 seconds
400 m swim in 10 minutes
Underwater swim 15m
Role & responsibility of lifeguard
Regulations that govern workplace health and safety for lifeguards
Legal obligations & training
Management of Distressed or Drowning swimmer
Management of a spinal injury
Working alone & with a team
Swim Instructor 15 years old by the last day of the course AND Bronze Cross AND Standard First Aid & CPR-C All required physical skills for swimming lessons Planning
Safety & formations
Working with different age groups
All required skills in swimming lessons (eg. front crawl, back crawl, treading water, etc).
Lifesaving Society Lifesaving Instructor Swim Instructor certificate All required physical skills for bronze courses Planning
Safety in performance and practice of skills
Teaching to the standard
All skills required in the bronze courses