Swim Teacher Certification: Programs, Requirements & Cost

Teaching others how to swim is a great skill which takes time and training to cultivate.  There are many different ways to develop your abilities as a swim instructor and many different philosophies to follow.  One of the best steps you can take to develop your abilities as a swim instructor is to become certified through an official program.

Do you need a certification to be a swim instructor?

The very short answer to this question is no, you technically do not need to be certified to be a swim instructor to teach someone how to swim.  Anyone can teach swim lessons in virtually any pool.

When might you need a certification to teach swim lessons?

There are a couple situations where teaching swim lessons may require a certification:

  • If you work for a specific facility or program, they may require you to have a certain certification. They may not accept any certification so make sure you figure out what they require before you just jump into a program.
  • Your insurance, either business or home insurance, may require you to have a certification to get insured. Often, a lifeguard certification will do, but check with your insurance company to make sure.

Why might you want to become certified?

Since you do not need to become certified (note the exceptions above) to become a swim instructor, you may be wondering why anyone would consider being certified at all. Becoming certified as a swim instructor is not necessary in most private swim instructor settings, but that does not mean there are numerous benefits to becoming certified.

Learning a curriculum

The first benefit to going through a certification program is that it gives you a basis for your teaching curriculum.  When you are confused or stuck on how to help a child that is struggling with a particular skill having a program that can reinforce your ability is definitely a plus. 

Often, I find myself getting stuck in a rut because I use a similar approach with all my students.  I have sometimes become so used to my method that when a student doesn’t respond well to them it takes me longer than I’d like to find the best approach for them. 

Going through the certification process will give you the basis for finding the best way to teach a multitude of students that you might struggle with alone.

Credibility with clients

Another benefit to obtaining a certification is the weight it carries with potential clients. Many parents are not sure what they are looking for in a swim instructor because, until you have a child you want to swim, there is little exposure to that world.

A certification shows clients that you take what you do seriously, that you have invested the time to become qualified by a measurable standard and suggest that you will take their lessons as seriously as you have taken your career. 

Potential career advancement

When you decide to become certified, you are also opening a door to a future career path.  Going through the certification process will educate you what to look for in a stroke or skill and how to increase the effectiveness of that stroke or skill.

If you discover that being water based is something you really enjoy, having a swim certification allows you to be on the road to bigger and better things.  These things could be coaching, becoming a swim instructor teacher or possibly moving into a more specialized part of swimming.  The things you learn during the certification process give you a foundation to build the rest of your aquatic career on.

Networking opportunities

A final reason to become a certified swim instructor is that it will connect you to a larger community of teachers.  This will help you build your clientele, continue to learn updated methods and techniques in teaching and help you adapt your method of swimming to new students. 

Often times you will get a student who has worked with another instructor, being connected to a community of instructors will give you insight into what they have already learned and how you can manipulate their skills to work better with your teaching dynamic. 

As I have become more connected to the teaching community the better I have been able to understand the skills students have shown me and therefore I understand what my students are demonstrating and how to work with it even if it is not my typical method.

What should you look for in a certification program?

After you have decided to become certified you are then left with the daunting take of deciding which certification program to participate in.  Unlike a lot of things there is not central swim instructor certification program.  The assumption is that becoming a swim instructor is similar to a teacher where each program may be different but they all meet the standards of central certification agency.  This, however, is not how swim instructor certifications are set up. Each program is different and you maintain your certification through that agency alone.  It is because of this that there is a lot to consider when debating which certification program to participate in. 

When evaluating different programs there are several things to keep in mind to help make your decision.

Does your work require a certification program?

The first thing to think about is what certification your work place requires. Often if you work for an aquatic center, they will have a certification program they require you to participate in. 

The benefits to this are that there is very little thought that will go into deciding which program to participate in.  Often an employer requiring a specific certification, they will often pay for or even facilitate obtaining the certification. 

The downside to being required to obtain a certain certification is that the program may not be the best certification for you personally.  If the certification you receive doesn’t fit you well on a different level there is never anything preventing you from continuing on to receive more than one certification.

What philosophy interests you?

For those who are free to choose whatever program they want there are some more specific and tangible aspect to consider. Each program you consider should have a specific philosophy to their approach. 

A program that does not have a philosophy to justify, explain and guide their certification program is not one you should consider because it indicates that very little thought has been put into the choices and information of the program they are presenting.

As you examine different programs you will want to make sure the philosophy of the program suits your own approach to how students should learn. For example, if you believe that children should always feel safe and secure in the water, participating in a survival swim program would not fit your personal philosophy since it is more aggressive than most others.  

If a program doesn’t fit with your personal style, then you will spend more time feeling frustrated by the program than learning anything new. Finding a program that fits your basic ideology is going to build on the foundation you have begun to build as a teacher. 

Course Work

Another aspect of the program you will want to give some thought to is the criteria to become a swim instructor.  Although I normally appreciate doing as little work as necessary, it is unlikely that a program who simply hands out a certification will help you in the long run. 

Programs should include instruction, as well as teaching prompts and activities.  There are several online programs that do not require any in-water training, which can cause concern.  Having in water experience with an instructor provides you the opportunity to clarify you understand the principles being taught instead of simply hoping you are enacting them correctly. 

Of course, if you live somewhere that does not offer swim instructor courses, online may be your best option and several of those programs offer a web based source for questions, concerns or further insight. 

If you are paying several hundred dollars to become certified, you will want to make sure that certification will improve and supplement your skills as a teacher.  As you are evaluating the criteria to earn your certification, you will want to make sure you will learn from the way the material is presented. 

Swimming is very kinetic and simply reading about the skills may not be enough to truly communicate the best teaching methods.  You will want to make sure that the skills you are being taught are easy to understand and translate into practice.  The presentation of the material may be a slight concern, but since each program is designed to make swim teachers successful, nearly all programs have found a way to accomplish teaching through several methods.


Considering how a program is set up is also important, not necessarily for the validity of the program but whether it will fit your schedule appropriately.  Many programs are offered in the pool over a few days, which will make them easy to complete as long as you dedicate the time to be there. 

Although you may have to plan ahead for family, work or school commitments, it is likely you will walk away from the course with a swim instructor certification.  This set –up can be difficult, however, if you do not have a schedule that will permit a few-day commitment or perhaps live in a location that does not offer these courses. 

In those situations you will need to look at a web-based program or perhaps pairing travel to a central location with the training.  If you do not live close to a center that teaches the certification program you have chosen, you should always try contacting them and see what it would take to have one scheduled in your area

Time and Money investment

The final criteria one should consider when deciding on a certification program is if this program is worth the investment of your time and money. 

The cost of becoming certified encompasses the tuition for the class, the materials for the class, the time you are investing to be there, as well as the annual renewal cost. Many work places will cover the cost to become certified and perhaps even pay you to do so, which makes becoming certified an easy decision. 

For others, these costs will often add up to hundreds of dollars as well as the time it takes to earn the certification. Before you commit to any program, you will want to make sure that this program will increase your skills as an instructor as well as the clientele you are able to bring in and the rates you are able to charge.  Becoming a better teacher is important, but for those who are teaching swim as a business opportunity, it also needs to make fiscal sense.

Certification Program Overviews

There are many different programs that offer swim certifications.  Here is the basic information about the most popular programs.  I have left out my opinion about these programs because I have limited experience with several and a lot of experience with others.  Without being able to give a fair evaluation of all, I have decided just to provide you with the basic information of each.

U.S. Masters Swimming

This program is meant to help swim instructors who focus mainly on adult students.  This program is call their Adult Learn-to-Swim (ALTS).  This program teaches you the skills necessary to improve the strokes and skills of adults who have either been swimming for years or are perhaps just beginning.  Since this is an adult-focused class, the methods being taught will be more logical and technical as well as support a broad range of skills.

This course is one full day and you must be a member of the U.S. Master Swim community to enroll.  I could not find information of what it takes to become a U.S. Maser Swim Member or where those major hubs are located.  The class, once you are a member, costs $250 dollars to take and will be $30 dollars every year to renew.

Red Cross (Water Safety Instructor)

The Red Cross is one of the major providers of swim instructor certification as well as lifeguard certification.  In terms of becoming swim instructor certified, they offer two levels: Basic Safety Instructor and Water Safety Instructor. 

A Basic Safety instructor is only certified to teach levels 1-3 of their course work and because that is proprietary information I was unable to access exactly what levels 1-3 entail.  A Water Safety Instructor, however, is certified to teach all levels, skills and strokes of competitive swimming, as well as providing the safety skill necessary of all swimmers.  A Water Safety Instructor includes instruction on teaching adult swimmers.

The Red Cross published the following about their criteria

“During our swim instructor certification training courses you’ll learn how to help individuals enjoy their time in the water safely – and in a wide range of ways. Throughout the courses we’ll focus on a number of key areas that can help you succeed as aquatics instructor, such as:

  • Water safety at public pools, homes, natural bodies of water and more, including the Circle of Drowning Prevention and Chain of Drowning Survival.
  • Hydrodynamics, including why some things float, resistance to movement and creating movement in water, swimming efficiency and laws of levers.
  • Basic safety, survival and swimming skills to help children gain water competency.
  • Helping people with disabilities and other health conditions enjoy the water safely.

Water Safety Instructors will also learn how to teach:

  • Higher-level swim skills that help prepare people of all ages for any aquatic activity.
  • Stroke mechanics for all competitive strokes as well as starts, turns and headfirst entries.
  • Water safety certification courses, including Safety Training for Swim Coaches and Basic Water Rescue.
  • Fundamentals of diving from a diving board.
  • Aquatic fitness and training for people of any age”

The Classes offered by the Red Cross are roughly $220 for a two-day classroom and practical instruction.  There is an annual renewal cost, but I was unable to find how much it was.  Due to the structure of this class, you have to be able to attend at one of their offered facilities and, as of now, there is no online or computer option available.

Swim Lessons University

Swim Lesson University is a video based program that is less of a certification course and more of instruction help.  This course is based around a program designed by Jim Rieser, who has coached swim lessons on the collegiate level for over a decade, as well as being tied to competitive swimming for far longer than that.

The program is based around his process for teaching children to swim, which he considers his first passion. This is a set of videos which are offered on a number of DVD’s or web-based access that teach you how to teach others to swim according to their program.

These videos can be purchased individually or as a set. The cost of this program can be from $75 for a single DVD up to $520 for a totally inclusive program. 

Star Fish Aquatic Institute (PADI Swim School)

The Star Fish Aquatic Institute says they are striving to become the premier international water based institution.  They tout that they are breaking the water safety mistakes of the past to create a better and safer way to interact with water.  From their website, they are offering the following benefits of their programs.

“Nationally and internationally recognized swim instruction program

Innovative and effective teaching methods

Safety concepts built into the curriculum at every level

Transition from another program is fast, easy and effective

The curriculum can be incorporated into current programming of any kind

Cost-effective with minimal paperwork

Client support with direct contact to the highest levels of the organization—no bureaucracy

Quality resources for instructors and merchandise for students”

The program cost is $250 dollars and it is offered at various locations around the United States.


Pedia Swim school is an infant swim school which is developed on the method of “drown-proofing” young swimmers in the water.  This is not my preferred method of instruction, but I chose to include it because I understand it is a popular approach.

This program was designed by Joy McGinty, who has been teaching since 1992 and has several aquatic awards and recognition in her name.  Information of the program specifics is sparse on their website, but the website provides the following about their program:

“PediaSwim is a comprehensive swimming program teaching infants and toddlers to swim-float-swim for fun and safety.  In three to five weeks, children learn to swim facedown, kicking in the correct posture and then rolling to a calm float, then flipping back over to a propulsive swim.”

If this program interests you, you must inquire through their website for pricing and certification information.  

12 thoughts on “Swim Teacher Certification: Programs, Requirements & Cost

  1. Hi there,

    I am looking to hire a life guard for the next few months, and I am wondering if you would have any leads, for a certified lifeguard, swim instructor?

    Thank you very much for your time.

  2. I am very interested in getting my swim teacher certification. I’m in the Sacramento area in California. I’d love more information on where to start please.
    Thank you, Melisa Henry

  3. Hi Mallory, my 16 year old daughter is a competitive swimmer since she was 8. She’s interested in getting a certificate to teach little kids how to swim as her summer job and isn’t sure what certificate to get. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Samantha, I am responding for Mallory as she is out of town. It really depends on where she wants to teach at. Most pools if she isn’t doing it at home will have a program they require or at least prefer. I would start there.

  4. Hello,

    I live in San Diego. I used to teach swim for the city pools and even lifeguard at a water park but have since moved back into the corporate world. I just had my first baby and i would like to have a more flexible schedule and have always enjoyed teaching kids to swim. I have a pool at my home and would be willing to go to others homes. Which do you suggest would be the best route for me?

    Thank you.

  5. I am a high school PE/Health teacher in Las Vegas, NV. I am interested in becoming a certified swim teacher for supplemental income during the summer. We have a pool at our home and I would love to do it there. Can you recommend a program to learn the skills necessary and become certified? Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts