Lifeguard shortage is sparking safety concerns as the summer swimming season kicks off

May 29, 2023, 2:38 PM

An empty lifeguard chair stands at Coney Island, one of New York City's most popular beach destinat...

An empty lifeguard chair stands at Coney Island, one of New York City's most popular beach destinations, on June 29, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — As people flock to beaches, lakes and pools this Memorial Day to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, the swimmers are here – but the lifeguards aren’t. At least, that’s what some parks departments and agencies around the country are saying as they scramble to find and keep lifeguards on duty for the season.

In New York, it takes around 1,400 lifeguards to keep the city’s beaches and pools fully staffed, and officials are feeling the staffing strain.

“This number includes a second shift of lifeguards to cover early morning and late-night swim programming at pools, which we are not able to accommodate this year,” New York City Parks press officer Gregg McQueen told CNN.

Like communities across the country, the city’s lifeguard ranks were severely depleted by losses during the Covid-19 pandemic, McQueen said. Many public swimming venues were shut down during the pandemic and some certified and potential lifeguards found work elsewhere.

With over 200 new recruits and over 280 returning lifeguards currently going through the certification process, McQueen said the city is hoping to reach similar staffing levels as last year, when it had about 900 lifeguards.

The parks agency is focused on keeping the city’s pools and beaches open this summer, he added.

Thea Setterbo, director of communications for District Council 37, the union representing many of New York’s lifeguards, told CNN the current shortage is consistent with national trends.

“Our numbers of returning lifeguards are consistent with what we saw last year,” Setterbo said.

Other communities are feeling a similar strain – for the third year in a row – and the American Lifeguard Association is warning that pools and beaches may shut down if they aren’t adequately staffed.

Different regions have unique challenges in terms of lifeguard staffing, United States Lifesaving Association Vice President Tom Gill told CNN.

Areas with warmer beaches year round, including South Florida and Southern California, where lifeguards are needed all year, typically have less trouble staying staffed.

Smaller coastal communities with rising housing costs sometimes have problems bringing in lifeguards for seasonal work, because those people cannot afford to live in the areas they work, Gill said. Areas with larger populations sometimes lose potential lifeguards to the bevy of other employment options available, he said.

“There are so many opportunities,” Gill said. “Anything that a 17-, 18-, 20-year-old wants to do, they can do it – because the jobs are available.”

That means fewer potential lifeguards.

“That pool of people – pun intended – is just smaller,” said Gill. “You’ve got to work really hard to recruit, and when you get them there, to pay them well, train them well and treat them well.”


Finding and keeping lifeguards


“America needs to take lifeguarding seriously,” Wyatt Werneth, a spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, told CNN’s Erica Hill and Rahel Solomon on Monday. “We need to train individuals, get them excited at an early age and offer them a career path forward.”

Some cities are offering incentives to sweeten the deal for potential lifeguards.

“New York City has raised the pay rate for new and second-year seasonal lifeguards to approximately $21.26 per hour for the 2023 season. All lifeguards working through mid-August are eligible to receive a $1,000 bonus,” McQueen said.

Agencies in Indiana, Phoenix and Austin, Texas, are also offering monetary incentives for lifeguards. The Denver Parks department is offering free lifeguard training in an effort to keep numbers up.

Keeping swimming venues staffed with lifeguards is a matter of safety, experts say.

A 15-year-old boy was pulled out of the water and later died after swimming at a New Jersey beach not overseen by a lifeguard Sunday afternoon, Daphne Yun, a National Park Service spokesperson, told CNN.

About 70% of drowning deaths among children 15 years old and younger happen between May and August each year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 4,012 fatal unintentional drownings happen every year in the United States, including boating incidents, an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.


Staying safe this summer


“This is a real problem,” Adam Katchmarchi, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, told CNN’s John Berman on Monday.

Katchmarchi said some facilities and venues that are unable to keep lifeguards on staff have just two options: shut down altogether or become a swim-at-your-own risk venue.

“Neither one is that good for the general safety of the public,” he said. “Unless we come up with both a short-term and a long-term solution to this problem, this is something that we’re going to face summer after summer,” Katchmarchi said.

In addition to safety tips like wearing a life jacket and swimming in groups, Gill, with the US Lifesaving Association, says families should look up venues that have a lifeguard on site, and factor that into their summer planning this year.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Outdoors & Recreation

A warning sign at Willard Bay State Park warning visitors about  potential dangers in the water. (K...

Brianna Chavez

Pet owner asking others to stay cautious when taking their pets to local reservoirs

Despite the end of summer, a Brigham City woman is calling on pet owners to stay cautious when taking their furry family to revisors.

20 hours ago

L-R, Zion National Park (Associated Press, Utah Office of Tourism), Bryce National Park (Laura Seit...

Simone Seikaly, KSL NewsRadio

Utah national parks will stay open if there’s a government shutdown

Utah national parks will stay open if there’s a government shutdown

1 day ago

The inside of The Barn in Old Paradise owned by the Sniders....

Alex Cabrero

Barn weddings becoming more popular in Utah, farmers say it helps pay the bills

Farmers are offering their barns to host weddings as rural venues are becoming more popular in Utah.

5 days ago

Brent Nelson...

Alex Cabrero

Utah man injured while helping fly American flag in Twin Falls, Idaho

Brent Jensen's heroic act during a flag incident in Twin Falls, Idaho, leaves him injured but determined. Learn from his story

9 days ago

Antelope Island State Park-paddle board trip into the sunset on the Great Salt Lake. (Tiffany Ames)...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

‘They’re supposed to put it all back’: How new Utah rules aim to protect Great Salt Lake’s water

A pair of Utah divisions are close to unveiling new proposed rules that will regulate how new mineral extractors will return all the Great Salt Lake water they use in operations, implementing a law that Utah legislators passed earlier this year.

10 days ago

Fall leaves have started to show up in on Sept. 12, 2023. Signs point toward a possibility of vivid...

Alex Cabrero

Fall leaves have started showing their true colors in Utah

For as many of us who looked forward to summer after the winter season we had in Utah, you really can't beat a good September.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

rodeo contestant on a saddle bronc...


Get Ready for the Days of ‘47 Rodeo!

The Days of '47 Rodeo is a series of events everyone in the family can enjoy, with world-class rodeo contestants vying for the gold medal.

Electric LED Lightbulb Change In Light At Home...

Lighting Design

How to Know When to Upgrade Your Lighting

This guide explores indicators that suggest it’s time for a lighting upgrade with tips to make an informed decision when you’re ready to buy. 

Brunette guy in headphones playing games on his desktop computer...

PC Laptops

Looking For a New Computer? Use This Desktop Buying Guide

Choosing a new desktop computer can come with a lot of questions, so we created this desktop buying guide.

Lifeguard shortage is sparking safety concerns as the summer swimming season kicks off