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Pools, Lifeguards, and the 10/20 Rule

4 minutos de leitura.

Most people have a misconception of what it means to be a lifeguard.

They believe it’s an easy job, an activity that consists of sitting around until someone needs help.

The term ‘lifeguard’ is mostly associated with professionals responsible for dealing with water incidents. However, in several regions, there is also the term ‘pool attendants’ who are trained in rescue and first aid but also handle pool maintenance.

For example, in Rio de Janeiro, pool attendants are widely known for rescuing swimmers in danger and also for cleaning and maintaining pools in buildings, clubs, and condominiums.

The profession of lifeguard

The work of lifeguards is far from easy! It is a challenging activity that requires focus and undivided attention.

The constant surveillance of a crowded pool, with children jumping, teenagers screaming and having fun, adults in large floats, others swimming almost professionally, diving, etc. Imagine all of that happening at once!

On a busy day, which is common during the summer, the pool can seem like absolute chaos. But if there’s one person who must pay attention to everything that’s happening in the pool, it’s the lifeguard.

The lifeguard must be attentive to the safety and well-being of all the swimmers in the water, but they must also keep an eye on the entire pool area. It’s a lot of responsibility!

The lifeguards’ 10/20 rule

There is a well-known rule among professionals dedicated to saving pool users: the famous 10/20 protection rule.

In commercial pools, it establishes a standard for lifeguards to follow. The rule states the following:


This 10/20 rule is a method to reduce drowning incidents in pools, creating a standard for lifeguards to constantly monitor the entire pool area every few seconds and be prepared to act in case of any incidents in the pool.

In several locations in the United States, water park managers have been required by law to implement and adhere to the 10/20 rule.

The rule is often misunderstood, especially by lawmakers and lawyers, who suggest that lifeguards who do not identify an incident within 10 seconds or fail to reach the victim within 20 seconds are not fulfilling their lifeguard duties correctly.

The fact is, as some research has shown, with the 10/20 rule, it may not be possible to scan the entire pool area every 10 seconds, and depending on the lifeguard’s location, weather conditions, and various other factors, it may not be possible to reach the victim within 20 seconds.

Recognizing and responding to a swimmer’s panic must be done as quickly as possible, as ingesting water while attempting to breathe for 20 seconds can be fatal. Depending on the situation, even the lifeguard’s life is put at risk.

In open water rescues, such as rivers and lakes, the rule often reduces the time to as low as 5/10, and this cannot be left to the last moment of the dive! All variables must be considered in advance.

In a way, the idea of making the rule a rigid protocol, forcing the lifeguard to jump into the water to reach a person within 20 seconds, can even jeopardize the professional’s life. Evaluation is key to any water rescue, and when a swimmer is in distress, seconds fly by, and quick yet smart decisions can be vital!

The Ideal Rule for Pool Life-saving

Of course, there are dozens of factors that contribute to pool safety. We have already discussed some of them in various content here at PoolPiscina:

  • Pool Safety – Preventing Drownings
  • Safety Devices in Public Pools
  • Pool Safety Fence – The Definitive Guide
  • Mandatory Installation of Safety Devices in Pools

As for the 10/20 rule, it would be ideal to extend it to include evaluation time in the “10” and “20”. The rule itself should be used primarily to determine the placement and number of lifeguard seats in the pool. Factors such as the number of people in and around the pool, specific pool conditions like blind spots, excessive noise, or other distractions should not be overlooked.

The 10/20 rule for water rescue has its place and purpose. The fact is, just like in life, there is no silver bullet in pool safety! Effective planning and continuous effort can mitigate the risks of incidents.


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