Beaches and pools need just one thing to be successful — sunshine. But to stay open, there’s just one more requirement: lifeguards. And for the second straight year, lifeguards are not easy to find, threatening the summer of young and old alike.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Town of Hempstead supervisor Don Clavin. In fact, New York can solve its statewide shortage of lifeguards quite simply: lower the minimum age requirement for certification from 16 to 15.
Clavin called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to do just that last week, saying 15-year-olds could guard kiddie pools and splash pads.
Hochul apparently agreed. She approved the change the same night she received Clavin’s letter.
“Permitting 15-year-olds to serve as lifeguards at spray pads and kiddie pools under supervision of more senior guards would greatly expand the pool of eligible lifeguard candidates,” Clavin wrote. “Staffing spray pads and kiddie pools with younger lifeguards will permit older, more experienced guards to fill vacancies at beaches and regular-sized pools that desperately require their services.”
Luckily, the Town of Hempstead are not suffering through a shortage, Clavin said. But the rest of the state is.
“This is an opportunity to get people back in the pool,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for a lot of young men and women who want to really get into this and are ready at age 15.”
The town currently has 180 beach lifeguards on call, with another 300 staffing pools. Hempstead managed to evade a shortage by offering classes in the winter months, Clavin said, allowing would-be lifeguards to be ready to work by summer.
Nassau County runs weekly programs to get prospective lifeguards tested and certified, Clavin said.
Nassau lifeguards are required to take American Red Cross training.
“They go through that course, they learn rescues and various skills and so forth,” Justine Anderson, the Town of Hempstead’s aquatic director, said.
Once that course is done, the prospects take what Anderson calls a rigorous certification test. That includes complete two laps in 40 seconds, and eight laps in less than three minutes and 45 seconds.
There are differences between lifeguarding a pool with a deep end, Anderson said, and a kiddie pool and splash pad.
“A seasoned lifeguard knows what to see in the water, they know what active drowning looks like,” she said. “At a kiddie pool, mostly the parents are in the water with the child, so you’re really just watching the parents hold their children.”
Age doesn’t determine whether or not someone is going to be a good lifeguard, Anderson said. Maturity level does.
“Kids at 15 years old are babysitting,” Town councilman Dennis Dunne said. “So if you leave (15-year-olds) at home with your kids when you go out, you can leave them at the pool.”
The training courses are open to anyone from any town or hamlet, Clavin added.
“We are the chief certifier,” he said. “This is about everybody in the equation from New York City, to Westchester to upstate New York.”