ORCHARD BEACH, The Bronx (PIX11) — New York City is possibly more challenged than ever to have an adequate number of lifeguards at its public pools and beaches as it prepares to open its eight public beaches on Saturday.
That opening comes with the city having only about one-third the number of lifeguards it needs to be maximally staffed, according to Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue.
Donoghue listed the numbers during testimony at a City Council hearing on Monday.
On Tuesday, however, at one of the city’s busiest beaches, Santa Alvarez, a daily beachgoer, spelled out the city’s dilemma in straightforward terms.
“This beach gets crowded,” Donoghue said while sitting with a friend on a park bench. “There aren’t enough lifeguards to save them.”
The city currently has about 200 new recruits in its lifeguard ranks and 280 returning lifeguards getting certified, according to the Parks Department. However, according to the parks commissioner, about 1,400 lifeguards are needed overall when the city’s public pools open on June 29 to guard all of the city’s beaches and pools safely.
Donoghue added that the numbers she’s expecting over the next few weeks should be adequate, if not ideal.
“We are absolutely hoping to have as many lifeguards as we had last year,” Donoghue said during a hearing about the city’s budget.
When asked to specify, Donoghue said, “Approximately 800 lifeguards coming on board, we’re hoping — 800 to 900.”
Those numbers did not leave many people on Orchard Beach, one of the city’s busiest summer beaches, feeling confident.
“You know how many times I came here and I hear ‘missing kid,'” said Vlorian Sajla, who lives nearby. “They’re looking all over. It’s crazy.”
Moments later, his daughter, a toddler named Hera, demonstrated his point as she wandered off toward the surf. Her father had to run after her.
Other locals elaborated on the challenge that the city faces on its beaches.
“All it takes is a split second if you don’t have enough eyes on that water,” said Marco Gee. “I don’t know, you know, the particulars, with what is going on with the mayor and the budget.”
Despite a call by Mayor Eric Adams for city agencies to cut 1 percent of their budgets, the Parks Department is increasing pay for lifeguards as an incentive. Last year, starting pay was $16.10 an hour, which was raised to $19.46 to attract more people to the lifeguard corps. This year, starting pay is $21.26.
Mary O’Donoghue, the senior director of aquatics for the YMCA of Greater New York, said that incentives are needed to fight a nationwide lifeguard shortage, including at the pools that her organization operates.
“Keep offering the trainings, and we can get more lifeguards certified, and that’s a benefit for everybody,” O’Donoghue said.
O’Donoghue also pointed out that the YMCA is among various organizations in the city that offer lifeguard training free of charge.