Fact Checked

What are the Different Types of Lifeguard Apparel?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

Lifeguard apparel is made to be layered to suit the weather; it starts with a swimsuit. Shorts, a t-shirt, and a hooded sweat jacket may be layered on top of swimwear designed for lifeguards, but these pieces must be easy to remove in case of an emergency to allow the lifeguard to get into the water quickly. Pull-on pants such as drawstring waist sweatpants with the word "lifeguard" on one of the legs or the rear are also available, but don't tend to be worn as much as different styles of shorts. Red is one of the most popular colors of lifeguard apparel; white, blue, black, gray, yellow, and orange are also worn by many lifesaving professionals.

A red cross or the word "guard" or "lifeguard" often appears on clothing especially designed for lifesaving professionals. In addition to swimsuits, shorts, t-shirts, sweat jackets, and sweatpants, hats and slip-on footwear are commonly worn types of lifeguard apparel. Slip-on beach shoes allow the lifeguard to be able to kick them off quickly when they need to enter the water during an emergency. Common types of lifeguard hats include cloth baseball-type caps as well as straw or nylon brimmed hat styles.

Lifeguard apparel may include whistles.
Lifeguard apparel may include whistles.

In general, lifeguards wear modern, yet conservative swimwear. Female lifeguards may wear a two piece swimsuit, but the pieces aren't revealing at the chest or rear. Male lifeguards typically wear swim trunks that are the length of shorts rather than briefs. Single colors with a cross or "lifeguard" graphic as well as suits with sporty stripe accents are popular swimwear looks for beach or poolside duty.

Board shorts are lifeguard apparel worn by both men and women. These are longer, slimmer shorts that usually have a drawstring waist and are made of a soft material such as cotton jersey. Wearing necklaces or other jewelry is often not permitted for lifeguards to wear on duty. Instead, a whistle on a rope or cord is worn by lifeguards to signal warnings to swimmers. Some lifeguard apparel companies sell whistles in different colors to coordinate with their clothing.

Rain ponchos or jackets with hoods are sometimes worn by lifeguards who work in rainy or windy conditions. Many beach lifeguards have other responsibilities besides supervising swimmers from a tall chair. They must ensure the beach is kept free of debris as well as post signs with rules for swimmers to follow. All lifeguard apparel is made to be worn in layers as needed, from a swimsuit to a rain poncho.

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Discussion Comments


When board shorts are worn as lifeguard clothing, they tend to be longer than the kind worn to be fashionable. I have bought a couple of pairs of board shorts before just to wear on the beach, but they were really short.

Most of the male lifeguards I have seen wearing board shorts wear the kind that are more fitting and extend more than halfway to the knee. The women’s version are slightly shorter, but they are still longer than the kind I bought.

You can totally swim in these shorts. They are made of water resistant material that is super lightweight, and as soon as you come out onto the shore, the shorts shed their water.


I know why lifeguards aren’t allowed to wear necklaces. One lifeguard on a beach I go to often broke this rule, and he nearly paid with his life.

He was wearing a seashell necklace like the ones all his friends were wearing. It was a popular style of necklace on the beach, particularly for people with really tan skin, because the light shells contrasted so well with it, making a person seem even darker.

He had to jump in and save someone while wearing the necklace. People who are about to drown often panic and grab frantically at the person trying to save them, even when it isn’t necessary. This lady pulled so tightly on the lifeguard’s necklace that he began to choke.

Luckily, the necklace broke before long. Otherwise, they might both have drowned. The lifeguard got in trouble, because you could clearly see the red ligature marks around his neck.


@anon194133 - I think it is because they are certified Red Cross lifeguards. That’s where they get their professional training.

The red cross they often wear is square rather than having the bottom leg extend out further, as many crosses do. That’s how you know that it signifies this agency.

Maybe not every lifeguard is trained by them, but the ones who are stand a much better chance of getting hired. Swimming area overseers like to know that their staff has been through a recognized form of life-saving training.


I never thought about lifeguards working in cooler weather. I have only seen them during the summer, when the sweltering temperatures forced them to wear as little as allowed.

If a lifeguard is working on a day that requires him to wear sweatpants and a hooded jacket, then it would be terrible for him to have to jump into the water to save someone. If the air is cold, then you know the water has to be that much colder.

The beach I go to doesn’t have a lifeguard. They only have signs that say, “Swim at your own risk.” The city pool always has a lifeguard on duty, though, and he is always shirtless.


does anyone know why lifeguards wear a cross?

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    • Lifeguard apparel may include whistles.
      By: vj
      Lifeguard apparel may include whistles.