Long Island lifeguard shortage leaves pools and camps scrambling


Kubi-Ayana Walters has been swimming since she was 6 months old.

Becoming a certified lifeguard was a natural progression for the 18-year-old Baldwin resident.

“I was just trying to find a swim related job… and the best job I could think of would be fun,” Walters said Sunday after graduating from Lifeguard Training NY in Rockville Center.

She will probably have no problem getting hired.

On Long Island – and across the country – there’s a shortage of certified lifeguards that local pool, beach club and camp managers say are the worst they’ve seen. The COVID-19 pandemic has a lot to do with it for several reasons, including the closure of training courses last year, experts said.

“I’ve never in my life – and I’ve been doing it for 10, 11 years – seen such a shortage,” said Motti Eliyahu, owner of Lifeguard Training NY, a Valley Stream-based company that charges $ 395 for one. 20- hour lifeguard course.

Some swimming pools will not be able to open, or their opening hours will be reduced, due to a lack of sufficient lifeguards.

To better compete with lifeguards, most of whom are high school or college students, employers are increasing wages, paying for training and certification, and sometimes even for room and board.

Some places double their wages.

“I even saw $ 30 an hour,” Eliyahu said.

The minimum wage on Long Island is $ 14 an hour.

Low pay for lifeguards is a major problem, said Tom Gill, spokesperson for the United States Lifesaving Association in California, which represents lifeguards in open water areas, such as beaches and lakes.

“It’s a job loaded with responsibility and people want to pay it off like they’re just sitting around sunbathing,” he said.

Sandy Hollow Day Camp in Southampton has a lifeguard / counselor for the summer and is looking for another, but their greatest need is to have a director of water sports, said Beth Hughes Barrie, director of the camp.

“I haven’t had a season like this for many, many years. It was virtually impossible to find people, ”said Barrie.

This year’s camp has raised the aquatics director’s salary from $ 25 to $ 30 an hour, advertises the position a lot, and is willing to pay a researcher’s fee, she said.

The camp is also willing to pay for the water sports director’s water safety instructor training, which will cost around $ 500, Barrie said.

The New York Beach Club at Atlantic Beach has 8 acres of oceanfront property and two swimming pools, said Bob Sands, executive director.

Although he has increased his salary, the nature of his business – being a high-end private venue – adds another challenge, he said.

“We need appropriate lifeguards. They really have to have the ability to understand service and hospitality, not just sit in the chair,” Sands said.

Normally the club is full in April, he said. At this point, the club have six of the eight lifeguards they need.

The YMCA of Long Island has swimming pools at six facilities, said Anne Brigis, president and CEO of the Glen Cove-based nonprofit.

The YMCA has 100 lifeguards, but 30 more are needed, she said.

“If I don’t get the number of lifeguards I need… I would have to cut the hours of operation,” Brigis said, adding that the YMCA’s starting salary for lifeguards had increased from $ 15 to $ 17. or $ 18 per hour, depending on location.

There has been a shortage of lifeguards for years, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem for several reasons, experts said.

Among them is the fact that some parents do not want their teenagers to work during the pandemic.

In addition, more and more people cannot pass the in-water part of the lifeguard course because they are not in good shape after staying at home for a year due to the pandemic, Eliyahu said.

Another factor is that many employers struggle to find hourly wage workers in various industries, including restaurants, shops and hotels, which some employers attribute to people who choose to receive improved unemployment benefits related to pandemic rather than work.

While this may not directly affect teen workers, the increase in the number of open positions gives them more options.

The YMCA aggressively advertises its job openings, but the current hiring environment is difficult as the organization competes more with restaurants and other employers who offer more incentives, such as job bonuses. hiring, Brigis said.

“I think people get really creative because they recognize how fragile the job market is,” she said.

Dana Spira, 16, was in lifeguard class with Walters on Sunday.

She has already scheduled a lifeguard position this summer at a camp in Pennsylvania, the Woodmere resident said.

Spira will earn $ 200 for three weeks of work.

“I’m not doing it for the salary. I’m going because my friends are there,” she said.

In numbers

Nationally certified lifeguards:

  • January to April 2021: 83,685
  • January to April 2020: 51,811
  • January to April 2019: 98,570

Most lifeguard training in New York state is delivered by American Red Cross aquatic training providers, according to Nichole Steffens, head of training services for the Red Cross.


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