Communities Hope to Reverse Trend of Lifeguard Shortages in 2024 | Sports Destination Management

Communities Hope to Reverse Trend of Lifeguard Shortages in 2024

Mar 14, 2024 | By: Michael Popke

Aquatics facility operators across the country hope this summer will not be a repeat of the previous three, when lifeguard shortages forced pools to reduce hours or close entirely.


“If we don’t get enough lifeguards, we don’t get to open all of our pools and keep our indoor pools open in the summer,” Andrea Wallace, assistant director of recreation and business services at Milwaukee County Parks, told


As an incentive to attract more guards, Milwaukee County Parks is offering a $3-per-hour raise for most guards and even more for experienced seasonal guards. Each lifeguard also will receive one free ticket to Summerfest (the city’s annual three-weekend music festival) and two tickets to a Milwaukee Brewers game. What’s more, all will be entered in drawings to win a bike, kayak rentals, a variety of gift cards and more. And those who complete their in-water training by the end of March will receive “exclusive swag” and tickets to other city attractions, according to the parks department’s website. That’s all on top of sign-on bonuses, full-season bonuses and other financial rewards.


“Last year, we did all monetary-based incentives, and then we surveyed our staff to see what they’d like,” Wallace told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We looked at those surveys and worked with the Parks Foundation … and  had some great community partners come forward.”


She added that the department would need to hire about 200 to 250 guards this summer in order open all pools within its jurisdiction.


Lifeguard wages will increase in other communities, too — including Louisville, Ky., and Gulf Shores, Ala., while municipalities like Grand Rapids, Mich., are covering fees associated with American Red Cross certification, which usually costs about $275 per lifeguard.


“By offering free lifeguard certification, we’re opening the doors to a new segment of potential lifeguards who may not have had the means to apply in the past,” David Marquardt, Grand Rapids’ parks and recreation director, told


Reversing the Lifeguard ShortageIn New York City, the hourly wage for lifeguards this summer will climb to $22, and returning lifeguards will receive a $1,000 bonus is they work through peak season.


“As we remain laser-focused on rebuilding our seasonal lifeguard ranks, this salary agreement will aid retention by rewarding returning lifeguards, while making lifeguarding a more viable and attractive career for new recruits,” New York City Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said in a statement announcing the pay raise. “Being a seasonal lifeguard is more than just a job — it’s an opportunity to be a part of a brave team dedicated to public service.”


Lifeguards were in short supply prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 exacerbated the problem beginning in 2021. And it hasn’t let up since. In fact, CBS News reported last year that about half of the nation’s 309,000 public pools [would] be forced to close their doors or reduce hours” in 2023, according to the American Lifeguard Association. And that didn’t include beaches, water parks or other venues. 


The need for more lifeguards, and the desire to keep more aquatics facilities open all summer, likely will be even greater in this year — thanks to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, slated from July 26-Aug. 11. Historically, the excitement of watching Olympics swimming competition on TV, along with the positive media attention given to Team USA’s brightest stars, results in an uptick in new swimmers entering the water.


But if a lifeguard shortage continues, it could impact the next generation of competitive swimmers who are only now learning the sport — ultimately beginning to drain the American pool of Olympic-caliber athletes.

“If we don’t have lifeguards on the deck, no lessons can happen,” Ryan Murphy, the four-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter backstroke who also is a Goldfish Swim School ambassador, told the Associated Press last year. “It’s one of those things where you hope they never have to do anything, but you need them there in case they have to.”

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