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- Best Overall: Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers
- Best Runner-Up: Water Safety Education for Parents and Caregivers
- Best Quick Course: Water Safety Online
- Best for Swim Coaches: Safety Training for Swim Coaches
- Best for Facility Managers: Lifeguard Management Online Course
- Best for Community Leaders: Becoming a Water Safety Ambassador
- Best for Watersports Enthusiasts: Paddle Sports Safety Course
- Best for Kids: Red Cross WHALE Tales Episodes
If you live around water, a water safety course could be the difference between a fun-filled day out and a life-changing tragedy. This is especially true for parents and caregivers who are responsible for the safety of their little ones around the pool or at the lake. If you are a professional swim coach, lifeguard, or pool manager, a water safety course may be a legal requirement. The good news is online courses make it possible to learn at your own pace and from the comfort of home. Many are free, and those that aren’t are typically much more affordable than traditional classes. Here, we rounded up the best online water safety courses, so you can stay safe.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers
Why We Chose It: We chose the Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers course as our overall winner because of its positive user reviews, simple format, and the fact that it is completely free.
Provided by the American Red Cross
Stellar rating from past participants
Can start and stop at any time
Must register with the American Red Cross to gain access
Format is not particularly interactive
Certificates are not issued for this course
Interactive learners may find it hard to stay focused
The Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers course is a product of the American Red Cross (ARC), with near-perfect reviews from past customers.
It focuses on teaching parents and caregivers about the risks of drowning and how to mitigate them, especially for young children. Topics include tips for drowning prevention, lifesaving advice in the event of a near-drowning incident, and how to ensure that your children become water competent as quickly as possible.
You will also learn specific tips for ensuring water safety in common aquatic environments, from private pools to open water. The course format is simple, straightforward, and primarily reading-based. You can start immediately, pause whenever you want, and take as long as you like to absorb all the information. The course and all materials will still be accessible after completion.
Best Runner-Up: Water Safety Education for Parents and Caregivers
Why We Chose It: We chose Water Safety Education for Parents and Caregivers for its excellent presentation and the fact that it is free to complete for those who don’t need a certificate.
All course content is free to read
Certificates cost as little as $8
Content is comprehensive and well-presented
Certificates are only valid for one year
Payment is via PayPal only
One-question test may not be challenging enough
Those looking for a more independent approach to water safety will enjoy the online Water Safety Education for Parents and Caregivers course developed by professional swim coach Jeanie Neal. All content, including training videos and testing material, is free to view and accessible any time via the well-presented and easy-to-navigate website. You can read it at your own pace and on your own schedule.
Topics include how to secure your pool at home to prevent drowning, when to teach your kids to swim and what to look for when choosing swim lessons, how to keep safe in hotel pools and waterparks, and safety considerations for boating on open water. Each page also includes a rhyme to help children remember key safety information. Certificates for this course are optional. If you need one, you must pass a one-question test and pay about $8 for one certificate or roughly $12 for two.
Best Quick Course: Water Safety Online
Why We Chose It: The Water Safety Online course is our top pick for those who want to learn water safety basics in a hurry given its quick completion time.
Format is ideal for those with limited time
The course is completely free
Certificates are issued upon completion
U.K.-based organization may not be recognized in the U.S.
Some may find the course too brief
Registration is required before starting
Hosted by the U.K.’s West Mercia Search and Rescue team, the Water Safety Online course takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. It’s the ideal refresher for those who have already completed a more comprehensive course or a great introduction for those who want to learn the basics quickly. Registration is free and unlike the previous two courses on this list, this one is not aimed especially at parents. Instead, it provides a more general overview of water safety issues.
You will learn about the body’s reaction to drowning, where drownings are most likely to occur, and who is most at risk. You’ll also discover how different bodies of water behave, learn about potential hazards, from sharp objects to waterborne diseases, and brush up on basic safety precautions and rescue techniques. Most importantly, you will also be taught how to resuscitate a drowned person. Certificates are issued with the username provided during registration.
Best for Swim Coaches: Safety Training for Swim Coaches
Why We Chose It: The American Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches course is the obvious winner of this category, since it is the course required by USA Swimming for all of its coaches.
Cost is relatively cheap at about $25
Some reviewers report issues with the software
Must register with the American Red Cross to gain access
Content is always the same for returning coaches
Printed certificates cost around $8 extra
Another water safety course from the American Red Cross, this one is aimed specifically at swim coaches and is a requirement for all coaches affiliated with USA Swimming.
It costs about $25 and teaches those involved in competitive swimming about how to create a safe environment for their athletes, prevent accidents and emergencies, and respond to illnesses and injuries when they occur either on land or in the water.
Reviews are somewhat mixed for this course, with many past users reporting issues with the software. Others feel that the content is rather basic for seasoned coaches, while some coaches find the three-hour class length too much, especially if they are taking the test for the second or third time.
Nevertheless, positive reviews praise the quality of the online instructors. Certificates are available in digital format or can be printed and mailed for roughly an $8 fee.
Best for Facility Managers: Lifeguard Management Online Course
Why We Chose It: We chose the Lifeguard Management Online Course because it is comprehensive, interactive, and qualifies for continuing education units.
Interactive format includes video lessons
Comprehensive content is useful for new and experienced managers
Qualifies for continuing education units
Some reviewers found it difficult to navigate the website
Cost is expensive in comparison with other courses
Certificate is only valid for two years
Provided by the American Red Cross and priced at about $120, the Lifeguard Management Online Course is designed for those that manage public pools and other aquatic facilities.
During the three-and-a-half-hour online course, you will learn strategies for managing lifeguard teams and ensuring the safety of both staff and patrons. There is a lot of content, but it is made manageable by the course’s interactive nature with video lessons and scenario-based activities to keep you focused.
You can pause and return to the course as necessary, and afterward, all of the materials will remain available for your reference. Anyone can take the course, whether you have a background in lifeguarding or not, and whether your facility is open year-round or only in season. Once you complete the course successfully, you will receive a digital certificate that is valid for two years and can be viewed, shared, and verified online.
Best for Community Leaders: Becoming a Water Safety Ambassador
Why We Chose It: We chose the Becoming a Water Safety Ambassador course because it's targeted toward community leaders and has great reviews.
Flexible format lets you fit it in around other commitments
All materials remain accessible after completion
No certificate or continuing education credit
Included overview of American Red Cross materials could be more detailed
Students must register with the American Red Cross before enrolling
The American Red Cross corners the market in online water safety courses in the United States, with a diverse array of options to suit all types of individuals.
The Becoming a Water Safety Ambassador course is aimed at teachers and adult or youth leaders in the community (and essentially, anyone who wants to learn how to use Red Cross resources to help reduce drowning rates in their local area).
In addition to covering the fundamentals of water safety, the course provides an introduction to American Red Cross materials so that you can use them to teach water safety in a classroom setting. It also provides other ideas on how to promote water safety education in your community.
The online format lets you start, pause, and stop the course whenever you like, and when you’re finished, you will still be able to access all of the materials. This program is offered free of charge.
Best for Watersports Enthusiasts: Paddle Sports Safety Course
Why We Chose It: The Paddle Sports Safety Course stands out due to its clever illustrations and comprehensive content. Plus, it's approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).
Free of charge
Approved by NASBLA and the U.S. Coast Guard
Excellent illustrations and optional narration
No information on whether a certificate is provided
Only valid for use in the United States
Not suitable for motorized craft
Most of the courses on this list are aimed at swimmers or those looking after swimmers. The Paddle Sports Safety Course, however, is designed specifically with the aim of keeping canoeists, kayakers, and paddleboarders safe on the water.
It is sanctioned by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard, and covers every aspect of safe paddling in seven chapters.
Each one has its own practice quiz, with the entire course culminating in a final exam with a passing grade of 80%. Detailed illustrations help visual learners, while those who prefer listening to reading can turn on the optional narration.
Chapters range from safe boat operation to emergency preparedness and can be tackled at your own pace, in one go, or in several sessions. Headed to Canada or Australia? BOATERexam.com offers a similar paddle safety course for those countries.
Best for Kids: Red Cross WHALE Tales Episodes
Why We Chose It: We chose the Red Cross WHALE Tales Episodes because they're ideally designed for kids with engaging, informative videos that use rhyme to encourage retention.
Narrated by a cartoon whale for maximum appeal
Each video comes with age-appropriate activity sheets
No charge, no sign-up
Videos may be a bit too basic for older kids
Supervision and assistance is required for younger kids
Parents need access to a printer for the activity sheets
One of the best ways to protect kids around water is to teach them about dangers and safety measures directly. To that end, the American Red Cross has developed a series of educational videos for kids that are as fun as they are age-appropriate. Narrated by Longfellow, the cartoon whale, each one centers around a rhyming phrase designed to help kids remember what they’ve learned.
Topics include safe swimming practices at public and private pools, ways to avoid sunburn, and instructions for wearing a lifejacket. There are eight videos in total, and each one comes with two printable activity sheets and a quiz: one for Grades K-2 and the other for Grades 3-6.
Not sure of the answers yourself? There’s a downloadable guide for parents and caregivers that includes answer keys and teaching methods. Best of all, the course is free and doesn’t require any registration.
There are surprisingly few reputable water safety courses available online, and the majority of those are provided by the American Red Cross. The best choice for you depends on your particular role or interest. For those in charge of small children, we suggest the ARC’s Water Safety for Parents and Caregivers course. The ARC also has dedicated water safety courses for swim coaches, lifeguard managers, and community leaders who wish to become water safety ambassadors. Outside the ARC, we like Jeanie Neal’s Water Safety Education for Parents and Caregivers, West Mercia Search and Rescue’s Water Safety Online course as a refresher, and BOATERexam.com's free Paddle Sports Safety Course for watersports enthusiasts.
What Is a Water Safety Course?
A water safety course teaches participants the fundamentals of staying safe around water. Most courses focus on drowning prevention and what to do in case of an emergency.
What Are the Benefits of an Online Water Safety Course?
An online water safety course gives you the freedom to learn in the comfort of your own home and at your own pace. You can choose when to stop or start your session whenever you like. Learning online is usually considerably cheaper than in-class learning.
How Much Do Online Water Safety Courses Cost?
Online Water safety courses range in cost. Some are free, while others like Safety Training for Swim Coaches can cost about $25. Certain options require a fee for certificates themselves.
How We Chose The Best Online Water Safety Courses
We selected courses that are offered by reputable organizations with third-party recognition and positive reviews from past users. Although the majority of classes are given by the American Red Cross, we tried to ensure some diversity by including courses from other providers, as well. Some that we considered, including the Water Safety Course from Save a Heart CPR and the Water Safety for Guides course from the New York State Outdoor Guides Association, had to be discounted due to a lack of current course dates.