“Being a lifeguard is not a summer job, it's a lifelong commitment".—Anonymous.
In the great hierarchy of summer jobs, few gigs get cooler than “lifeguard". From the beachside views to saving lives, what’s not to love? For one thing: all the poop. Lifeguards are more than aquatic protectors—they’re also custodians of the pool, which means picking up after our messes. All that is on top of the whole “guarding our lives” obligation. So it isn’t all CPR and games. With this rare melange of varied fluids and human lives in the mix, being a lifeguard can be its own everyday horror story.
Curious people of Reddit asked lifeguards about their noble vocation. What was the most horrific, or just plain weird, thing they ever had to face on the clock? From not suitable for waterpark encounters to bloody collisions, blow the whistle to these 26 shocking stories about the most horrific things lifeguards have seen on the job.
1. Swim Your Heart out
We had a man with heart problems who went down the slide. He ended up going into cardiac arrest. I had been called in that day as a "junior supervisor" and had only been there for maybe 20 minutes.
When we heard the whistles, it was super terrifying because we had literally had another incident like this the week prior. The whole thing did not go as smoothly as we wanted, and the ambulance took over five minutes to get there. Thankfully, the man ended up being okay, but the day was long after that and really took a toll.
2. Up Close and Too Personal
My facility has a program called "First Grade Swim" where we will bring in classes of first graders from around our area from underprivileged schools.
So for an hour and a half we have a crazy pool deck of kids who have never seen a pool as large as ours, and constant whistles and yelling, "Walk!"... After this class we immediately have an Arthritis class, so looooots of older people. Now you know the backstory we can go back to the story.
We are just finishing up lessons for the day and all the kids start going into the locker rooms to change when this old (65/70 maybe) lady walks out of the locker room WITH NO CLOTHES ON. I'm down and my other male (I'm female) guard is on stand. He notices first and motions to me, I spot her and rush to her while also knocking on my manager's window to get their attention. We ended up getting her back into the locker room. Her husband was there, and he let us know that she was also suffering from some mental things. But still... Scarred. For. Life.
3. A Fatal Dose of Summer
Just today we had a drug OD in our pool. There was unconscious seizing, vomit, and poop. Honestly, if they weren't there with all the guards at the pool and somewhere else, they may have not lived.
4. Bad to the Bone
So, me being the kind and sweet 18-year-old I am, I signed up to work at the local community pool, you know, for the money.
I had been working there for about a few weeks when my boss told me that the next weeks would be "camp weeks" when the rec center next door would allow the kids to go to the pool for about 5 hours…why I don't know. To say I was unprepared for what would happen the following Monday was an understatement.
We had 2 covered slides at the pool that, with the right water pressure, could get you going pretty fast and would shoot you pretty close to the end of the slide. Well, the head guard on duty thought it would be cool to turn the pressure up pretty high and let the kids have some fun.
Well, at around 1:00 pm, this kid comes up to the guard room and says that he smashed his knee in the slide and needs a Band-Aid. I look at the kid, who is obviously fine, and ask why he needed the Band-Aid.
Right after I heard that, I heard this scream from the slide area. I rush over and see that the slide catch area is a dark red.
Well, I obviously freaked out and told the other guards to get everyone out. I had no idea what to do about the kid that was also in the water, with a bone coming out of his leg, but I knew to make sure no one saw it. Needless to say, paramedics were called, and the big pool and slides were drained and cleaned. I never saw that kid again, but I always thought about how he got me out of work for a couple days.
5. Who Cares?
So this isn't really horrifying as much as it is just patrons being unbelievable. I am the aquatics director at a small summer camp, and this past summer we had a kid throw up in the pool. It was a small amount, but that's not the point.
It's standard to evacuate the pool when this happens because, well, there's bodily fluid floating around. I feel like this is just common knowledge. Well, at the time we were doing a week of summer camp for underprivileged kids, and their counselors all work for Job and Family Services.
So as I'm evacuating the pool, one of the counselors asks me if it's "really necessary to have the kids get out of the pool". After I tell her yes, it's a health code violation if I don't, she reported me to the Camp Director. Nothing came of that, of course, but still, some people...
6. Mystery Deliveries
Didn't happen to me, but there used to be a phantom pooper who would leave a nice steamy pile on the ground for one of us to clean up.
7. Lord Bless This Mess
I got in at my single-guard pool at 8am for a 12-hour shift. I went to clean the bathrooms and proceeded to find 4 piles of human excrement, and floors covered in hand soap. I first called my pool manager who just laughed and said good luck. I then called my staffing manager who was actually helpful, telling me who to contact in the neighborhood to notify them of vandalism. After about an hour of cleaning that mess, I proceeded to find that all the skimmers were stuffed with toilet paper and pine straw.
Separate event: I showed up to work for a weekday shift at 11am to find one of the regular families huddled around the deep end. Upon entering, I found that they were inspecting a very large dismembered rat... never expected to use the skimmer pole for that...
8. “Care” Taker
I had to board a 12-year-old kid last year on a 2-5 am shift when he kneed himself in the face. His poor excuse of a chaperone was a nursing aide at a nursing home and thought he was hot stuff, so he decided that I couldn't call EMS.
He also reached over and set the kid's nose after I boarded him (uh, no) (it took almost 15 minutes to board because this douchenozzle was refusing to let us do that because "the kid's fine, you idiots").
He also called the kid's parents and lied and told them that we were overreacting over a nosebleed and so they gave him permission to ignore the paramedic's advice to go to a hospital immediately.
9. Disasters Come in Fours
Ten years in the game here's my list:
Family Time—Family Making.
Rookie shallow water blackout during training.
The night the 50m competition pool lost 6-8ft of water in 2 mins. The fire department had to come with ladders.
Any time you forget your bathing suit and have to borrow someone else's. I just hope the chlorine kills any bacteria.
10. There Will Be Blood
I was scanning at a wave pool at the deep end when the waves turned on. Everything was okay for about 10 seconds. Then this large group of hillbillies (around 7 or 8) found their way to the deepest part of the pool where they couldn't touch. They were all thrashing about and grabbing each other and guests around them trying to get to the surface.
I went in, the guard across from me went in, the guards from the middle chairs went in, and then the supervisor went in. They ended up breaking one of their noses, popping three tubes, and giving myself and another guard a nosebleed.
11. Not All Horror Stories Are Made Equal
I once forgot my sandwich.
12. Swimming in WHAT?
My YMCA had some chemical problems. As I was told, no one took readings for a few months and one day someone accidentally switched the chlorine input lines. Several swimmers obtained some nasty chlorine burns because of this, and now this Y has some potential lawsuits in their future.
But the real issue was that the management at my Y was more or less bothered by the fact that HR came by and checked our logs, which of course had a minimum of one day missing per week.
The joys of working for a nonprofit that asks employees for donations, right?
13. Tuck It in
I worked at a pool with slides that were JUST barely at safety standards. The rule was you HAD to tuck your chin. We made kids demo before they went and had a whole thing. Once, a kid went down with his head back. Back of his head hooked on the slide and had numbness/tingling through his hands and feet. Ended up being fine, but boarding a kid is psychologically scarring.
14. Not Fun for All Ages
I work at 2 different pools and saw people screwing under one of the slides. Had to call the authorities, that was a crazy day for everyone there.
15. Not Cut out for This
I worked at a university athletics pool. We were responsible for the whole facility (including ice rinks, gym, open gymnasium, soccer field, indoor field dome, and football field).
Got a call on our emergency phone. Girl was badly cut on the ice rink. I get there, thinking it was a cut, but that whoever called was exaggerating. No, no they weren’t: this girl had a 2-inch deep, 4-inch-long cut through most of the soft tissue behind her knee and was in and out of consciousness by the time I got there (4 minute run at a full sprint).
She made it into the ambulance and was alive when paramedics got there, but I never heard anything else. To be honest, I don’t think she made it, but I don't really think of it that way.
16. Sweat You Later
Let’s lighten the mood! Let's start with the tale of Sweater Guy. Sweater Guy was an…unfortunate man. You know, those people, who, when they swim, you look at them and say, "Darn, if you went out and I had to use a defibrillator, I would have to shave you".
It drifted like seaweed as he swam. But his chest hair isn't the point of my story. He would occasionally (EVERY TIME HE SWAM)...groom...said chest hair in our family change room. So we had to hose it out EVERY TIME. And whenever we tried to catch him, he'd get all indignant and leave with his partially groomed forest. And then do it again.
This same man also proposed to SEVERAL YOUNG (16-18 year old) female staff. When told it was not appropriate, he said that it was a cultural thing and campus security wouldn’t let us bar him.
But Sweater Guy's ULTIMATE ridiculousness: Sweater Guy took MULTIPLE weeks and warnings to learn that the water running lane was not for swimming, and he must swim in the swimming lanes. Then one day, sweater guy comes to a swim that is not his regular swim. At this swim, we had a lovely, eccentric woman with physical and cognitive delays. She would come swim while her worker sat on the side. She was allowed to swim in the water running lane, as there was no other lane we could feasibly transfer her into (based on lift placement).
Well, doesn't Sweater Guy take it upon himself to scream bloody murder at this lovely woman we have made accommodations for. We even make a point, before this woman comes in, of telling all the water runners the deal, and they're usually pretty chill. But no, Sweater Guy believes that if he can't use the lane, NO ONE CAN. I go to intervene. Shockingly, I get called a racist. Security removed him. It was wild.
17. The Pool Is Not a Place for Love
While I was still a lowly senior guard, the supervisors were having an all-hands meeting. I was running the shift in lieu. So, on the stand is myself (closest to the men's changeroom), another senior guard (25m down the pool), and a fresh junior in the office.
All of a sudden, up from the depths of the men's change room runs a giggling 20-year-old girl followed by a smug looking boy of about the same age. Being not an idiot, I put that together darn fast. So I call the junior guard and ask her to speak to the two and just gently let them know the girl has to use the women's or family change area.
Well, this noob walks on over and starts balling them out about how what they did is disgusting, and how dare they, and we could call the authorities, etc. I call it and go over (we were low ratio for 2, it's a big pool) and essentially haul this girl off and send her to the back to pack her stuff for the night and leave (technically didn't have that power but everyone agreed with me, so I didn't get any flack).
And then I had to calm down these two idiots, who alternated between being (understandably) angry, screaming, raving, and acting like I was an idiot, claiming she had totally used the women's area, she just thought you had to go through the men's to get to the pool.
Don’t remember how I shut them up, but that was amazing and awful, and I hate 16-year-olds.
18. Setting a Bad Example
I was the beach guard at the wavepool when a guard at the deep end of the pool activates their Emergency Action Plan and jumps into the water. He brings this little girl to the edge and has her climb up the ladder.
Apparently, he was following too close behind and blood drips down from her nose all over him. She ended up being fine, but he was sent away for medical testing because of his exposure.
19. Maybe Some Stories Are Better Left Untold
I was sitting there and I overheard the last line of some guy's conversation. All I heard was "weed whacker circumcision! BBZZZZZZ"
To this day, I wish I knew what he was talking about.
A friend of mine who used to work here got punched in the face by a dad because he wouldn't let his daughter go down the slide (she was too short).
21. Drowning Isn’t the Only Danger
There were a few days I got genuinely scared while working there. One time was when the sky was relatively cloudy, and nobody was at the pool. This also just so happened to be on the Fourth of July, and I worked eight hours that day.
Anyway, I noticed a man staring at me from a distance. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and I figured he was trying to see how busy the pool was. But he stood there for probably three minutes, just STARING. Finally, he came over to me. He started by saying that he'd had his eye on me and he wanted to get to know me better.
Keep in mind a few things. First of all, I was sixteen. And very shy, so talking to people was hard enough for me. Also, this pool was located in an area known for s*x offenders and creepy guys in general. Pretty high crime rate. So, I was scared.
22. Aquatic Picnic
One day, somebody came up to me and told me a kid had thrown up in the pool. Which was no big deal, it had happened before.
So I grabbed a fresh pool net and headed over to the spot. But this time, I could see actual chunks of vomit and food, whereas usually it all mixed in with the water and you couldn't see the throw up anymore. I actually think people only asked me to clean it because it made them feel better for some reason, as if they trusted that I could get it all.
23. Totally Tubular
Former lifeguard at a mega resort casino in Vegas. My stand was at the lazy river near the waterfall. This fat lady is going around on an inner tube. The waterfall got the tube stuck under it. Keep in mind, it's a tiny waterfall with not much water dropping. But enough to stop the tube if the water hits the right spot. So she's stuck there for about 15-20 seconds tops. No biggie. Happens every day.
About 15 minutes later my manager walks over and I jokingly say, "What'd I do?" She says "Actually, that large woman over there says you saw her drowning and didn't help her. Manager didn't get mad after I explained it. I ended up getting fired, but that's an even crazier story.
I have a pretty horrible story. We had a "lazy river" at our pool where people would lay in inner tubes and the current would take them around the pool.
Some lady fell asleep on her tube and her one boob fell out. So she was just floating around sleeping with her boob out.
I didn't want to blow my whistle and draw everyone's attention to it, so I kind of just let her float around. She wasn't even hot either and she was like 50. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do!
25. Criminal Chemicals
I was guarding at my local pool by myself with over 100 people in the pool. A little into my shift, a few patrons came up and complained about the chlorine. Not being able to get down from the chair for a fairly normal complaint, I radioed the front desk and asked them to send someone over when they could, so I could walk them through the chemical testing. They were really busy (it was just after New Year's Day), so they said it'd be about a half hour. Half a cookie being better than none, I didn't push it.
In the next half hour, I had 3 more groups of people, 2 of which consisted of adults and the other a few of the swimmers on the pool's team, complain about the same thing. One of the swimmers had a mild burn on her arm from the pool. I radioed the front desk again and said I needed a staff member now. They sent one over. I had to walk them through the process 4 times to be completely sure, since I couldn't watch them do the chemicals. In that time, 3 more swimmers came up to me with mild burns.
All 4 tests resulted in a chlorine level of 12.3 ppm. That's insanely high. Like shut the pool down immediately high. To put it in perspective, we keep the hot tub, the most chlorinated water, at about a 5, and we urge people to not stay in for more than a half hour tops. I immediately called my boss, who was on call for the evening. He wasn't off duty for another 2 hours. He didn't pick up. I had the front desk call him, and for half an hour they called him over and over again. When he finally picked up, they'd been calling him for over 45 minutes. He told me I couldn't close the pool, and since he didn't want to come in and fix it himself, told me to just leave it. He joked about telling them to shower after they were done.
I closed the pool immediately. I threw in the chlorine nullifier and clocked out. He called me at 5 in the morning the next day, a Monday. He was screaming at me and wanted to know why I closed the pool. I just told him, "Because I quit. Maximum patrons per guard is 25 per our pool's policy, and 50 per the state. I was at over 100 by myself. Also, the chlorine was literally at poisonous levels, and you wouldn't let me close. So I solved the problem by quitting. Have fun finding a guard to replace my 60-hour weeks".
26. Not Suitable for Work or Play
I work at one of the larger, more popular waterparks in the Southeast. Back in 2015, I think Labor Day weekend, we were well over 7,000 guests in the park. Near to the end of the day, we get a couple of guests mentioning to a guard at our wave pool about a gentleman doing inappropriate things in the water, so the guard calls him over to try to talk to him, and as he's coming over, he pulls something out of the water and chucks it all the way past our buoys by the gates to our motors.
The lifeguard lets him off with a warning, though by this time we do have several members of park management radioing us that a "brown cylindrical object" has just been thrown across the very crowded wave pool.
Said gentleman then attempts to go find his lost object under the guise of finding some goggles. Of course, since it is past our guest accessible area, the deep guard tells him that he can't go in there to get his goggles but offers to go find them for him.
He keeps refusing while also trying to sneak under. All the managers have finally gathered proper at the deep guard's side and take her off stand and send her in after the item, which is revealed to be an adult toy.
Of course, we threw him out of the park, and banned him from all our properties, but the worst thing about it all was that a couple of our managers in the next few days had come to see the picture we got of him to keep him from coming in—and realized that he was their high school algebra teacher.
In summary, high school algebra teacher threw an adult toy through our wave pool Labor Day weekend and it was the biggest event we've ever had to deal with.
(Honorable mention is the horror stories of working a hydromagnetic slide. We had someone lose a chunk of toe once because they had their legs off too far to the side.)