Lifeguard shortage could limit access to local beaches and pools this summer

As temperatures climb, the water at local beaches and pools looks more inviting.

But many cherished spots may be off limits this year.

Facilities across the state are facing a severe shortage of lifeguards that could force them to reduce hours or just stay closed.

“There’s definitely a lot of demand for lifeguards,” said Aidan Conway, a 19-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He’s all in when it comes to being a lifeguard this year. “Just being outside. I didn’t want to start an internship quite yet. I want to be outside helping people.”

John Gleason, Barnstable’s Recreation Director, said they need about 100 lifeguards to staff 13 beaches.

So far, they’ve reached about ¾ of that goal, and that’s despite increasing wages and offering free training if someone works for the entire season.

That might not be enough, however.

“So, if you’re coming to the Cape, most of our bigger beaches, popular beaches, will be staffed with lifeguards,” Gleason said. “The rest of the places, the smaller places, on the outskirts of town, potentially may not have lifeguards this summer.”

Stephanie Cooper, Acting Director of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, said “Lifeguards are essential. It’s essential to safety at a waterfront and to providing people with a safe and quality experience.”

She’s hearing about problems recruiting staff across the country and needs about 600 lifeguards for the state facilities she overseas.

“So, we said the right thing to do is invest in this, so we raised our rates and we’re among the most competitive in the country, offering $21-$26 an hour.”

There are training opportunities like the one Aidan Conway attends and the chance to earn bonuses.

“We have many, many candidates who are going thru the process,” added Cooper.

One theory for why the problem go so bad is, of course, the pandemic. Lifeguard training requires a lot of close contact with other people and as classes were canceled, the pipeline of new trainees dried up.

Colleen Whitaker, 19, of Winthrop is also training to be a lifeguard. She surmises that “it’s a lot of responsibility, being responsible for someone’s life and I think that’s probably why.”

Another factor is changing priorities for college students. Many are looking for internships earlier that previous generations.

Add it all up and Shannon Obey of Hale Reservation in Westwood is another manager looking to hire lifeguards.

She started as a lifeguard at Hale 19 years ago.

“Lifeguard skills that you develop are transferable to any job in the future,” said Obey. “You learn teamwork. You learn organization. Regardless of where you go from here, its something that you can take with you, so get certified and become a lifeguard!”

A public pool in Mattapan closed last month due to staffing issues.

A spokesperson told us they too are offering training courses and doing an active outreach to try and fill those slots.

On the Cape, the town of Bourne has given up trying to find candidates. They say there will be no lifeguards on town beaches this summer

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