America Is Grappling With A Major Lifeguard Shortage

America is grappling with a lifeguard shortage that only gets worse every season. Golden State Lifeguards had its busiest year so far and was able to make it all work with just a skeleton crew however we are dreading what next season has in store for us in 2019.

For the last 3 to 5 years, we have struggled when it comes to recruiting lifeguards for seasonal positions. As always candidates are in short supply and this shortage is putting lives in danger and in some cases prompting the closure of pools all over the nation. So the question that aquatics professionals are asking is what can we do to reverse this trend? This is not an easy question to answer as in doing so only opens a can of worms socially as well as politically.

As always we start recruiting for positions following the Labor day weekend with a time frame for candidates to submit however this next year we will be recruiting on a permanent basis. Many will run recruitment for a short duration hoping that they get enough candidates before the filing date however we see that type of recruiting model going extinct.

Lifeguarding is not what it once was and has lost its appeal across the board. For those of you old enough to remember, the job of firefighting and in particular the job of paramedic had a great boost from a show called “Emergency” starring Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe. Everyone wanted to be a paramedic as the show illustrated a job that everyone wanted. Today we have nothing like that to give the job of lifeguard a boost. The last show that had anything to do with lifeguarding was “Baywatch” starring David Hasselhoff. Although the show was more about sex appeal, it did have a small boost. Recently Dwayne Johnson starred in the new “Baywatch” which was a disservice to the lifeguard industry.

How are some dealing with the lifeguard shortage? Some cities and counties are lowering the age to 15 years old to attract new lifeguards for their pools. While this may seem like a good idea, we feel this is a bad idea! Not every 15 year old has the maturity needed to perform the job of lifeguard. There are times when they may have a serious medical emergency on their hands which could potentially cause them to get overwhelmed or to freeze. This is strategy that needs to be thought out more thoroughly.

A new trend has started to emerge which is that some are looking at older people and training them as lifeguards as long as they can show they have the physical ability and maturity to be a lifeguard. Some people are coming out of retirement to become lifeguards. This could be an excellent alternative and a way to help fight the lifeguard shortage.

On average lifeguards are receiving very low pay for the job. This is one reason that the job is not appealing to many and as long as many offer low pay, they will not find the candidates they are looking for to staff their pools. The solution is to offer better pay for a job that requires certifications and other types of training to maintain the skills necessary for the job. Our experienced lifeguards here start at $20.00 per hour and in some cases, especially with municipal ocean lifeguard agencies, starting pay will be between $24 to $27 per hour depending on many factors. If anything is to change, start with a wage increase to attract better quality candidates. Never settle!

The biggest change that needs to happen is that aquatics facilities and pools will need to start offering paid training to recruit lifeguard candidates. Typically, many would require the candidates to pay for their initial training however at $200 for certification can be very cost prohibitive and will certainly drive candidates away. $200 is not easy for a 15- to 17- year old to get! Some aquatics facilities will tell candidates to pay for their initial training with the promise to pay back over an extended period of time during the course of employment. The time has come for aquatics facilities and even private companies to start offering paid training that includes initial certification.

As we continue to grow and demand for our services in the Southern California region increases, we will need to make changes to attract quality candidates. Our recruiting practices will change as follows:

  1. We will no longer rely solely on recruiting candidates with previous lifeguard certifications or experience.
  2. We will open up recruiting to those who possess strong swimming skills and a desire to be a lifeguard.
  3. Minimum age will go from 21 years old to 18 years old.

Once candidates have been tested and background checked, we propose the following new changes:

  1. Lifeguard candidates will be trained and certified to be lifeguards.
  2. Wage will be $15 to $20 per hour depending on experience and background.
  3. Lifeguard staff will continue to receive continuing education to refine and expand lifeguard skills.

Our goal is to raise funds via “The Golden State Lifeguards Foundation” to pay for recruiting and training of new lifeguards. This will ensure that no pool or facility will be without qualified and well trained lifeguards. We also seek to recruit military veterans who qualify and train them to be lifeguards.


All media inquiries can be directed to Lifeguard Chief Ed Castillo at

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