US beaches and pools could be less safe this Memorial Day

A shortage of lifeguards is prompting some municipalities to close or reduce operating hours for beaches and swimming pools as the weather heats up and people look for outdoor aquatic activities to cool down.

In recent years, shortages of qualified personnel to oversee much of America's shores have resulted in limited operation hours over safety concerns. 

In New York City, beaches will open for Memorial Day weekend, but only 230 of the 600 lifeguards needed to fully staff and patrol the areas have been hired. 

"There are some beaches that will have shortened hours or may not even be able to have a full complement because we have … a national lifeguard problem that we're trying to resolve here in the city," NYC Mayor Eric Adams said this week.  


FILE - A lifeguard sits under a large umbrella while watching swimmers. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)


When asked last week about the shortage, Adams suggested migrant asylum seekers should be allowed to work as lifeguards, arguing many are "excellent swimmers." In an effort to lure applicants, the city has raised lifeguard pay to $22 per hour. 

In Rochester Hills, Michigan, officials closed the swimming area and beach at Spencer Park for the holiday weekend due to a lifeguard shortage.

"We are currently offering a $500 BONUS for anyone on our aquatic staff who works an average of 24 hours per week through July 15," the city said. 

Many cities are still recruiting and training lifeguards who will be assigned beaches and pools after the holiday weekend, said Wyatt Werneth, the national spokesperson for the Virginia-based American Lifeguard Association (ALA). 

Werneth noted many municipalities are offering incentives for applicants, including sign-on bonuses, wage increases and not charging for certain training. 

"So, we won't really know until after Memorial Day when the beaches are fully staffed," he told Fox News Digital. "There has been some uptick after making some modifications and improvements. We need to do better. It's the only profession where we can actually prevent actions before they become actions."


Part of luring applicants to the lifeguard profession is its visibility, said Werneth, who became a lifeguard because of "Baywatch," the popular 1990s drama about a group of lifeguards in Los Angeles County, California.

"It was a lifestyle like, ‘Oh my goodness, I want to live that,’" he said. "We don't have a shortage in fire, police and EMS" because of the many dramas about those professions on TV. 

The shortage was so bad in 2023, about a third of the country’s 309,000 public swimming pools were either closed or operated sporadically, the ALA said. 

In Los Angeles County, which is facing a shortage for the third year in a row, officials in March announced a slight pay increase and a less challenging swim test for pool lifeguards. 

The American Red Cross told Fox News Digital it hasn't received reports of a national lifeguard shortage. 

"Some aquatic facilities — for instance, some in Virginia — are having difficulties hiring enough staff, as are other seasonal businesses," the group said. 

In April, officials in Volusia County, Florida, were trying to recruit more lifeguards, according to media reports. In Phoenix, 18 of the city's 29 pools will open after bonuses are offered, local news reports said. 

The ALA recommends people check their local beach or pool website to make sure they are fully staffed with lifeguards before heading out for fun.

It also recommends avoiding swimming in any areas where a guard isn’t actively watching. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said around 4,000 people, or 11 per day, die from drowning annually. 

"Somewhere, we took a detour, and not many people know how to swim," Werneth said. "The most important thing is to swim in front of a lifeguard. Find that lifeguard. Know before you go."

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