Get shades, sunscreen, and yellows. Due to a nationwide shortage of lifeguards, water parks, campgrounds, and municipalities are scrambling to hire thousands of workers at pools, lakes, and beaches. Some offer free training that takes 25-40 hours. Other employers raise the hourly wages from $10 to $30.
“We have raised wages at all of our parks…Both lifeguard training and licensing are free for every new and returning team member,” said Nick Paradis, corporate communications director at Palace Entertainment, which owns 10 water parks across the country. Up to $15 at Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh and $18 an hour at Splish Splash on Long Island, New York
This shortage is largely due to the fact that lifeguards have to renew lifeguard certification every two years and thousands have not been able to do so.
“Now that the vaccine is more readily available to potential salvage candidates, we may be seeing a slow comeback,” said Lindsey Mundick, who oversees water activities and other initiatives for the YMCA USA’s YMCA.
It takes more than super swimming skills to land a job as a lifeguard. Here are the requirements to become a lifeguard, the courses you will need and what the current job market looks like.
Here’s what some lifeguard jobs pay for
No longer bailing out 2021 minimum wage jobs in most cities and towns.
Job advertisements show that employers are willing to pay more than previous summers. Check out these wages:
Happyswimmers.com in San Francisco: $22 to $30 an hour
fort city. Lauderdale, Florida: $18.93 to $29.33 an hour for waterfront lifeguards
Hyannis Harbor Hotel in Hyannis, MA: $25 an hour
City of Durham, North Carolina: $18 an hour
Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh: $15 an hour
Saint Petersburg, Florida: $13.25 to $21
Recruitment incentives for lifeguards
Just as restaurant chains give out cash for interviews and referrals, so too are employers looking for lifeguards.
“Some of our parks offer referral bonuses,” Paradise said. “One of the incentives we have offered in nearly all of our parks is to provide four free base season tickets to a team member and immediate family if they apply and complete the hiring process by a certain date.”
Orange City, Iowa pays a referral bonus of $20 to a lifeguard who gets a friend to join the team at public pools. The Mesquite, Texas Department of Parks and Recreation will pay $50 for one referral, $75 for two and $100 for three.
Mondik of the YMCA emphasized that saving a life builds skills like confidence, leadership, and teamwork, which transfer well into any career and look great on a resume. Besides promoting the critical role that lifeguards play, YMCAs across the country are trying different incentives such as referral and login bonuses.
“Many YMCAs also focus on non-traditional rescuers, engaging those who have retired, or those who previously served their country in the military to now serve their community through rescue functions,” she added.
Here are the basics of how to become a lifeguard
It takes about 25 hours of training to get certified in all lifeguard requirements. Some organizations teach a combination of in-person and online classes and some are individual pool courses.
The American Red Cross immediately offers a 2- or 4-day lifeguard training course across the country. Here are some of the rescue course requirements.
- Minimum age: 15 years
- Swimming 300 yards continuously
- Run the water for 2 minutes using only your legs
- Complete a timed mock “rescue” within 1 minute 40 seconds by starting in the water, swimming 20 yards, snorkeling to a depth of 7 to 10 feet, recovering a 10-pound object, returning to the surface and swimming 20 yards on your back to return to a point Start, then get out of the water without using steps or a ladder.
- Applicants must also demonstrate an ability to perform CPR on a swimmer, administer first aid and use an automated external defibrillator, also known as a CPR AED.
How to become a waterfront lifeguard
Waterfront rescue requires additional safety training, skills, and capabilities. It varies by employer, but most require you to:
- Swim 500 meters or 550 yards in 10 minutes or less in open water.
- Run a mile in 8 minutes 30 seconds or less.
- Mastering specific monitoring techniques for swimmers
- Use equipment such as ATVs, rescue boards, buoys, kayaks, paddle boards, masks, fins, and snorkel
- Learn about water conditions such as tides and how to identify dangerous wildlife
Lifeguard Certification Cost
For now, if you want to learn how to be a lifesaver, there’s a good chance it might cost you nothing. For example, Sandcastle Water Park near Pittsburgh’s website opens with a page that promotes raising wages to $15 an hour and offering a free rescue certificate. Many other employers including some YMCA do the same.
If you pay the cost varies a lot, but it’s well worth it. For example, Marion, Ohio, charges a $25 fee for lifeguard certification courses. Prices for American Red Cross courses range from $100 to $300 depending on the location.
Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.