Hong Kong needs more lifeguards. What does it take to become one?

August 27, 2018



Hong Kong’s beaches and public swimming pools are suffering from a lack of lifeguards at the busiest time of year. We look at what it takes to become a lifeguard

Is there anything more refreshing than leaping into a swimming pool to beat the summer heat? The SCMP graphics team certainly doesn’t think so, especially when the mercury soars to 35 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, owing to a dire shortage of lifeguards, many of the city’s swimming pools and beaches have closed during the height of summer this year.

The Hong Kong government manages 41 beaches and 44 public swimming pools. About a third of the 1,959 lifeguards needed to make these locations safe are on seasonal non-civil service contracts. However, in June of this year, 348, or about 20 per cent, of these posts remained vacant according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Government Lifeguards General Union (HKGLGU).

Many pools have had to restrict their opening hours with some facing closure for months as a consequence. Several beaches will be undermanned and in some cases, without any lifeguards during lunch time.

About 35 per cent of the 1,959 lifeguards employed by the government are on a seasonal non-civil service contract.

As a consequence, many pools have imposed restricted opening hours with some facing closure for months at a time. Several beaches will be undermanned and in some cases, without lifeguards during lunch time

In response to the shortage, the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), that manages the public pools and beaches, announced they would launch training programmes to accelerate the overall manpower supply of lifeguards.

It is relatively easy to qualify as a lifeguard in Hong Kong compared with countries like the Britain and Australia. However, the Hong Kong Life-Saving Society (HKLSS) and HKGLGU believe many young Hongkongers are put off considering a career in the industry because of the low social esteem associated with the job.

How to become a lifeguard


Candidates need to qualify from courses, approximately two months in duration, organised by the HKLSS, or associated societies. The qualifications need to be renewed every three years

Prior to 2003, the Bronze Medallion was the only certification required to work as a lifeguard before Hong Kong introduced pool and beach lifeguard qualifications

Lifeguards’ duties

The daily duties of a beach lifeguard consist of observing the public from a watchtower, standing by at a first aid post and patrolling a designated area by foot. They also need to check life-saving equipment, undergo regular training and ensure the maintenance and cleanliness of the venue.

Lifeguards typically work a nine- to 10-hour day, rotating positions and duties with a colleague every half an hour when they can take a short break. They must be ready to take decisive action when an incident occurs and their code of conduct prohibits the use of mobile phones while on duty

The number of lifeguards required at a public swimming pool varies according to the pool’s size, design and facilities.

According to the LCSD, a 50-metre standard main pool requires four lifeguards per shift; a 50-metre secondary pool needs two; training pool complexes, diving pools, children's pools, toddlers’ pools, and first aid posts require one each.

Beaches generally have one lifeguard tower post and one patrol post for every 160 metres of shoreline.

10:20 RULE
Lifeguards must be able to visually scan the whole of their designated zone of responsibility in 10 seconds and be able to access any incident in their zone within 20 seconds

The following life-saving equipment should be available in the equipment rooms of pools or on beaches:

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Non-contact using equipment: standing on land, lifeguard uses life-saving pole, buoy, or other floating device to reach the conscious victim and pulls him/her back

Contact without equipment: lifeguard reaches the unconscious victim in the water and uses armpit tow or other tow position to take him/her to shore

Contact with non-machinery tools: lifeguards reaches the conscious victim in the water using canoes, surfboard or other equipment to save him/her

Contact with machines: usually occurs at sea when lifeguards use lifeboats, water motorcycle or other aquatic machines to reach the victim


The industry is facing severe labour shortages. The lifeguards’ union says many of their members are required to work extra hours without weekends off and are often too busy to take their lunch breaks on time, if at all. The leisure services agreed lifeguards regularly need to work on their days off and public holidays.

Besides, sea lifeguards are also regularly exposed to the risk of injury while rescuing swimmers in trouble at sea.

Common objects threatening the safety of swimmers:

Upon completion of training the entry level for lifeguards’ salaries is around HK$14,000 a month, depending whether the lifeguard is posted to a beach or swimming pool. Senior lifeguards, with at least five years’ aquatic experience, can earn up to HK$20,000, according to the LCSD.

The union believes the salary is too low considering the skill requirements. As Anson Tang Tsz-on, the HKGLGU president says: “Lifeguards need to know how to perform and operate many different types of life-saving and aquatic equipment. A person with those skillsets is likely to consider more lucrative career opportunities, like becoming a coach.”

While civil service lifeguards’ salaries vary between point 5 to 10 on the table above. A police officer's entry level salary on the other hand starts at HK$22,085.

The numbers of incidents and rescue operations that occurred at Hong Kong’s public pools and beaches in 2017:

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