Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguard Program: What to Know

The Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguard Program is a four-week lifeguard coaching program that offers sessions at three different state beaches in the Santa Cruz area. If your family is visiting the city of Santa Cruz for an extended stay or enjoying one of our lovely vacation rentals in Santa Cruz County this summer, you might be interested in signing the kids up to learn some valuable life skills!

Here’s all the information you need to know about empowering your child with water confidence and essential lifesaving skills.

What is the Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguard Program?

Photo Credit: Michael Barajas
  • Registration: Opens in April
  • Course: June and July
  • When: Sessions are on weekdays from 10 am to 3 pm
  • Website:
  • Fee: Each child enrolled is $490

The Junior Guards Program allows kids to gain life skills and master safety, conditioning, and team building through fun, games, and physical conditioning. It also teaches them the skills necessary to save lives in the water, whether or not they are interested in becoming lifeguards themselves.

Under the careful supervision and guidance of trained and certified lifeguards who have completed an intensive United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) certified Open Water Lifeguarding Training Course, kids have the opportunity of a lifetime to become a part of the community, as well as learn life-saving skills.

Funded by the JG Booster Club, this program is meant to inspire future generations of lifeguards in the Santa Cruz area. Kids will be expected to swim, run, paddle board, and participate in team-oriented games on the beach and in the water. Its goal is to deliver the highest quality water safety education and enhance physical conditioning while forming an understanding and respect for the ocean.

Where is the Program

Photo Credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz

The lifeguard program operates sessions at three state beaches (like a state park) in the Santa Cruz area:

  • Twin Lakes
  • Rio Del Mar
  • Manresa State Beach

The Junior Guard instructors will always have blue shirts or sweatshirts, and tents will be set up on the beach to define meeting areas for each group.

What is Included in the Program

A typical day will include:

  • Warm-up runs, stretching and calisthenics, and a swim.
  • After workouts, instructors review skills such as aquatic safety, first aid, and other requirements of lifeguard training.
  • Lunch comes next, followed by beach games, paddle boarding, leadership, and team-focused fun and competition to solidify friendships and create good team-building skills.

Are There Try Outs

Photo Credit: SarabellaE / Sara / Love in the Suburbs via Flickr CC2.0

If you are a new Junior Lifeguard participant and have never enrolled in Santa Cruz State Junior Lifeguard Program before, you are required to attend a tryout date.

This is because the Lifeguard Program is not a “learn to swim” program, so kids must have the basic skills necessary to participate safely, including knowing how to swim. Instructors at the tryouts assess and ensure that kids are competent enough to be safe members of the team and have the right to dismiss anyone they deem unfit.

You can sign up for a tryout once you have already registered for the course.

What if you cannot attend the tryout dates?

For Junior Guard participants residing outside of Santa Cruz or are unable to attend tryout dates you should contact the Junior Guard Coordinator and request an Out of Area Tryout form if you cannot participate in the local tryout dates. To do this you will need to:

  1. Complete the same requirements as regular tryouts.
  2. Have a local swim coach or lifeguard sign off on your participant’s skills.
  3. Scan and email the completed form to

This process ensures accessibility for participants beyond Santa Cruz County and makes remote tryouts possible.

Is the Program Suitable for All Ages

Photo Credit: Charlotte Geary

The age requirement for kids who wish to enroll is 6-15 years old, but 6-8-year-olds (Little Guards) can only enroll at Rio Del Mar. While sessions are tailored to specific age groups, all participants must have proficient swimming abilities and basic aquatic skills.

Workouts like cardio and calisthenics are expected from the first day, as well as regular swimming and lots of time in the water. Every instructor is a certified and well-trained ocean safety specialist, with multiple people watching over and guiding each group. The age brackets are as follows:

  • Little Guards: 6-8 year olds (Rio Del Mar only)
  • C’s: 9-11 year olds
  • B’s: 12-13 year olds
  • A’s: 14-15 year olds

Keep in mind that although kids will be engaging in games and fun throughout the program, they will also be participating in water sports and calisthenics and will be given a place to challenge themselves.

When is Enrollment

Registration opens for the program on April 1st at 9 am, and slots can fill up quickly. Waitlists are offered once a session becomes full, and you will be notified if anything opens up. Before registration, you must create an account on Reserve California and list the children you wish to enroll as dependents.

2024 Enrollment Dates

  • Session 1: June 10th-July 5th (No Programming on July 4th)
  • Session 2: July 8th-August 2nd

This is the recommended preparation that each child should work on before try outs.

  • Little Guards: Practice swimming 25 – 50 yards continuously and treading water for 1 – 2 minutes. Red Cross Swimmer Level 4 and up is strongly encouraged.
  • Junior Guards: Practice swimming at least 200 – 500 yards continuously (8 – 20 laps) and treading water for 3 – 5 minutes. Red Cross Swimmer Level 6 and up is strongly recommended.

Swim Test Requirements for Ages 9-15 years

  • A continuous 100-yard freestyle swim (4 pool lengths) in under 3 mins
  • Complete a 10-yard underwater swim
  • Treading water for 3 minutes

Swim Test Requirements for Ages 6-8 years (Rio Del Mar ONLY)

  • A continuous 50-yard freestyle swim in under 3 mins
  • Complete a 5-yard underwater swim
  • Treading water for 3 minutes

During the swim, your child is expected to perform freestyle strokes without holding on to the sides of the pool or lane lines. Instructors will not accept breaststroke or doggy paddling.

What Should Your Child Pack

As with any beach activity, you want to come prepared and in the proper uniform to distinguish yourself as part of the program. You should also bring:

  • Reed-safe sunscreen (at least 50 SPF)
  • Rash Guard or wetsuit
  • Swimsuit
  • Towel
  • Sun hat
  • Sandals
  • Sunglasses
  • Backpack or Dry bag
  • Sweatshirt (red if possible) & pants (navy if possible) for the colder mornings.

Junior Guards Uniform

All Junior Guards must wear RED long-sleeved T-shirts with the Junior Guard logo and solid navy blue bathing suits appropriate for running, competing on the beach, and swimming in the ocean. These items are sold at tryout locations. Check out the official website for more information on where to get your uniforms.

Pro Tip: Shop Local! For discounts, visit Buell Surf Shop, Free To Ride, O’Neill Surf Shop, or Billabong. Mention Capitola Junior Guards, and you may receive a discount.

Spend the Summer with Us in Santa Cruz

The County of Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguard program offers a way for your kids to get involved and introduced to the world of public safety and aquatic competence while also making lasting friendships, getting involved in the community, and having fun in the sun!

You can enjoy pure relaxation at our top of the line vacation rentals while your child gets the summer adventure of a lifetime. Or ignite a new passion for the ocean and ocean safety that could blossom into a career with the Juinoir Lifeguards or other lifeguard positions in the future.

Book your Beachnest Vacation Rental today!