Pools close as lifeguard shortage hits American cities this summer

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The U.S. has a shortage of lifeguards, and it’s taking a toll on swimming centers throughout the country.

Cities such as Indianapolis and Chicago, have responded to the shortage by closing pools and limiting hours of operation in order to keep the public safe from accidental drowning, the Associated Press reports.

Professionals in the lifeguarding space are also worried that Americans will turn to beaches and lakes where there are no lifeguards on duty, which of course puts swimmers at a higher risk of drowning, especially when summer heat waves lead people to seek out ways to cool down.

Bernard J. Fisher II, the director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association, told the Associated Press he thinks the current shortage “is a disaster.”


He noted that lifeguard certification programs were temporarily stopped during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and starting pay can be low in some cities compared to other jobs.

The lifeguard chair is empty, and the beach sparsely populated, at Old Orchard Beach in Maine on Tuesday, September 7, 2021. 
(Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that lifeguards and other recreational protective service workers made a mean hourly wage of $13.14 and a mean annual wage of $27,320.

Current data from the career website and job board Zippia suggests that there might be more than 67,656 certified lifeguards who are working in America.

That number is small when factoring in how many commercial swimming centers and natural bodies of water there are in the country.

Statisticians at the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals estimate there are 309,000 public swimming pools while geologists estimate there are tens of thousands of beaches and lakes, respectively.


Lifeguard requirements vary by city and state, but generally, candidates should be able to swim a long distance, tread water, complete a timed rescue and know how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED).

A lifeguard cleans the water at a swimming pool located on a barge anchored on Brooklyn's waterfront.

A lifeguard cleans the water at a swimming pool located on a barge anchored on Brooklyn’s waterfront.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For example, lifeguards in New York City must be at least 16 years old, have at least 20/30 vision in one eye and 20/40 in the other and be able to swim 50 yards in 35 seconds or less with proper form, according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, while lifeguards in New York State must be at least 17 years old, have at least 20/70 vision in both eyes and swim 100 years in 75 seconds or less, according to the NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

In the state of Florida, the minimum age is 15 years old (varies by city) and prerequisites include being able to swim 300 yards continuously, tread water for two minutes, complete a timed event in under two minutes and surface dive seven to 10 feet and retrieve a 10-pound object, according to LifeguardAndSafetyTraining.com – a nonprofit lifeguard certifier.

Beaches, of course, have more challenging swim requirements, given the nature of changing tides, rip currents, natural debris and wildlife.

Lifeguards warn swimmers when water isn't safe to enter.

Lifeguards warn swimmers when water isn’t safe to enter.
(City of Virginia Beach)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings and 8,080 nonfatal drownings in the U.S. each year.


A “Lifeguard Effectiveness” report published by the CDC found that American lifeguards rescue an estimated 100,000 people from drowning annually.

“Lifeguards play an important role in a swimming facility’s risk management program,” the CDC wrote. 

Life preservers are floatation devices that are essential lifeguard tools.

Life preservers are floatation devices that are essential lifeguard tools.
(iStock )

“The presence of lifeguards may deter behaviors that could put swimmers at risk for drowning, such as horseplay or venturing into rough or deep water, much like increased police presence can deter crime,” the CDC’s report added. 

“Lifeguards are trained to monitor the aquatic environment, supervise patrons, inform patrons about the potential for injury, educate them about the consequences of injury producing behavior, and enforce rules and regulations that prevent injuries,” the agency added.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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