NYC officials ‘confident’ beaches and pools will have more lifeguards this summer

City officials said they are 'confident' the city will have more lifeguards this year than last year, amid an ongoing shortage. Tuesday, May 21, 2024.
City officials said they are ‘confident’ the city will have more lifeguards this year than last year, amid an ongoing shortage. Tuesday, May 21, 2024.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Amid a multi-year lifeguard shortage, a top official in Mayor Eric Adams’ administration said they are “confident” the city will have more lifeguards this year than last, just as swimming season is set to kick off this weekend.

Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi said that 560 new recruits have joined the lifeguard training program this year. She said the three classes in training, combined with the yet-unknown number of returning lifeguards, will hopefully add up to more than last year’s peak class of roughly 850 lifeguards.

“We are confident that we will end up with a total number that is larger this year than we had last year,” she said, during the mayor’s weekly news conference.

But Joshi said she does not anticipate the total number of lifeguards this year topping 1,000 — which is the optimal level to have all of the city’s beaches fully open for swimming.

“Ideally, we’d love to have 1,500, but I doubt that we’ll get close to that,” Joshi said.

There will be 230 lifeguards on duty at the city’s 8 public beaches over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, a spokesperson for the city’s Parks Department said. However, Joshi said, while all 8 beaches will be open during the holiday, sections of each beach will be closed for swimming due to the lower staffing levels and, in some cases, Army Corps Of Engineers work.

The Parks spokesperson said the agency, which runs the city’s beaches and pools, anticipates 48 of the city’s 51 public outdoor pools (three will remain shut due to construction) will open on June 27. However, there will be capacity limitations at the open pools, they said.

The spokesperson said Parks will determine which beach sections will be closed based on the daily lifeguard headcount. She added that the city will continue to certify new lifeguards and add to their ranks through July 4.

Joshi’s comments come after two years of historic lifeguard shortages limiting the amount of available swimming space across the city’s beaches and pools.

In 2022, the shortage forced the Parks Department to shutter some pools and cancel several of its swimming programs, while last year, it left sections of beaches closed for swimming and pools with capacity restrictions.

The city’s lifeguard deficit has been attributed to the difficulty of qualifying for the job, the powerful lifeguard unions acting as gatekeepers and a national trend where municipalities across the country have had difficulty hiring lifeguards in recent years.

Over the past couple of years, the city has tried to fill empty lifeguard posts by increasing pay and making it easier to get certified.

Earlier this year, the city reached a deal with District Council 37 (DC37), the union representing lifeguards, to boost their base pay from $21 to $22 per hour. The increase comes with a $1,000 bonus for returning lifeguards who work through the peak of summer.

The mayor also moved to ease the intensity of the notoriously difficult lifeguard qualifying exam and boost its recruitment efforts last year.

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