There's a Lifeguard Shortage—Here's What To Know Before You Hit the Pool With Your Family

A lifeguard shortage is affecting pools, camps, and resorts across the country. Here's what to know before diving in with your kids.

Red lifebuoy ring near the swimming pool. Rescue concept.
Photo: Getty

The American Lifeguard Association is reporting one-third of pools around the country are experiencing a short supply of lifeguards, causing them to reduce hours or close. The shortage can affect summer camps, family getaways, and vacation plans this year but could stretch into the 2023 swim season as well.

Take Raleigh, for example, where half the pools were still closed as of last week because there aren't enough lifeguards to safely open, according to a report from the city's ABC affiliate. In Austin, parks and recreation officials had to scratch plans to open all pools in early June because it only had 234 lifeguards. The count is far short of the 750 lifeguards needed to safely staff pools all summer.

Why is There a Lifeguard Shortage?

Experts shared with NPR that there are two primary reasons for the shortage.

The first: The pandemic. Many industries have had trouble with workforce shortages during the pandemic, and lifeguards aren't immune. COVID-19 forced a reduction in training classes, and some lifeguards' certifications expired and were not renewed.

The other main reason for the shortage is the expiration of J-1 visas. Two decades ago, there was another lifeguard shortage as condos and hotels added pools to their list of amenities. Eastern Europeans were permitted to come to the U.S. on J-1 visas, or non-immigrant work-and-study visas to fill the need.

In the early months of the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump put many worker visas on pause. Since several pools were closed, it did not have a noticeable impact on the industry. Now that pools are attempting to reopen, localities are feeling the effects, even though President Joe Biden allowed the ban on temporary visas to expire.

What Can Parents Do?

NPR reports that swim instructors are being asked to fill empty lifeguard chairs. Several states have mandatory lifeguard-to-bather ratios. For example, in New York, pools must have one lifeguard per 25 bathers. Lifeguards can supervise a maximum of 3,400-square-feet of a pool's surface area.

Pools in these states cannot open without the appropriate staffing. It could lead parents to have more informal gatherings at backyard pools, where there aren't certified life-saving individuals on hand. It makes pool and swim safety even more important. Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 14, according to the CDC. Here are some ways to keep your child safe in the pool:

  • Be an advocate. Talking about swim safety and the need for lifeguards with other parents and advocating for solutions at local town council or parks and recreation meetings can drive change.
  • Discuss swim safety with your children. Kids should be aware of ways to keep themselves safe. For example, let them know it's essential to only go in or near the water if a trusted adult is around to supervise.
  • Have designated water-watchers. Even if a lifeguard is on duty at a local pool, caregivers should still supervise the children. If you're there with a group, parents can take turns. This means putting down the phone and watching for signs of distress or unsafe behavior.
  • Sign up for swim lessons. Swim lessons can help a child feel more confident in the water, but they aren't a replacement for the watchful eyes of lifeguards and caregivers.

Swimming is supposed to be a fun, quintessential summer activity—and it is. But safety is essential, and so are lifeguards and attentive adults.

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