Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary gives the following definitions:
Lifesaver: (1) One trained to save lives of drowning persons. (2) One that is at once timely and effective in time of distress or need.
Lifeguard: A usually expert swimmer employed (as at a beach or a pool) to safeguard other swimmers.
Although these definitions sound similar, there are a few significant differences. For example, the definition of the lifesaver does not mention swimming ability. In addition, the definition of lifeguard uses the terms “employed” and “safeguard,” implying that lifeguards are paid for their services and present to prevent as well as respond to aquatic emergencies. All lifeguards receive training in lifesaving techniques, so all lifeguards are lifesavers. On the other hand, since public safety staff and the public can be trained to make reaching, throwing, wading, and boating assists (and not swimming rescues) to reach a drowning victim, all lifesavers are not lifeguards.
- Duty to Act/Standard of Care:
- LIFEGUARD: Employed to supervise the public at the facility where the emergency takes place. Has a specific duty to act and a high standard of care.
- LIFESAVER: Not employed at the facility, but a member of the public at the scene or a medical/safety worker called to the scene of a drowning victim. May or may not have a duty to act. May or may not have protection by Good Samaritan Laws.
- Actions Taken
- LIFEGUARD: Performs rescues and provides professional-level basic life support and first aid.
- LIFESAVER: Performs elementary assists or makes an emergency phone call. Provides basic first aid and lay-responder CPR.
- Swimming Ability:
- LIFEGUARD: Expert swimmer capable of making direct swimming rescues, especially with equipment.
- LIFESAVER: Unknown swimming ability who should aid by reaching, throwing, rowing, or wading—not by attempting a swimming rescue.
- LIFEGUARD: Has specialized rescue equipment for the facility/environment.
- LIFESAVER: May use on-site or makeshift equipment to reach or throw. Safety workers may bring rescue equipment to the scene.
- Team Response and Support:
- LIFEGUARD: Part of a team of professional rescuers who can respond together and support each other.
- LIFESAVER: A lone bystander, a loosely coördinated group of bystanders, or one or more safety workers who arrive at the scene.
By the way, a lifesaver is also a name given to the ring buoy (or life ring) as well as the candy that looks like a ring buoy.