The city parks department got state approval Friday to offer a watered-down swim test for people to watch smaller pools as New York adapts to a summer with fewer lifeguards than ever.
The new test for “mini pools” requires applicants to swim only 300 yards without stopping, using various strokes in good form — with no time restriction, according to Crystal Howard, a spokesperson for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
It will replace the current test, which required a candidate to swim 400 yards in 6 minutes and 40 seconds for the beach, and 7 minutes and 40 seconds for pools. Those qualifications will now apply to full-sized pools only.
The mini pools are approximately 40 by 20 feet in size, and three feet deep, officials said.
The Parks Department anticipates it will be able to hire 35 lifeguards for its 17 smaller pools with the new test, allowing them to move fully-qualified lifeguards to larger pools and beaches.
While their numbers have been falling for years, New York City is facing a particularly dire lifeguard shortage this summer, with just 778 lifeguards on staff as of Tuesday. The city had been aiming to get around 1,400 to 1,500 to work at its 53 pools and 15 miles of public beaches by a July 4 deadline, according to officials.
The change was approved by the state’s health department, which regulates the parks agency, Howard said.
Although the city’s lifeguard school usually shores up its fleet by Independence Day applicants are still able to take the lifeguard swim test — but they will have to had previously been a lifeguard and thus not required to take a multi-week training course, according to officials.
If New Yorkers are interested in lifeguard work, they can call the city’s lifeguard school at (212) 397-3157.
The idea behind creating an easier test specific to smaller pools was to free up more skilled lifeguards for the more dangerous beaches and larger pools, officials said.
Earlier this week, Mayor Eric Adams announced a deal with District Council 37 — the union that represents lifeguards and their supervisors —that increases the starting pay for guards from $16 to more than $19 an hour. Last week, Adams announced he was lifting a ban that kept some city employees from working part-time as lifeguards, an issue first reported by THE CITY.
The mayor also vowed more coordination between agencies to protect beaches, including reviewing “inefficient practices that are in dire need of further reform,” he wrote in a statement.
The city’s lifeguard school was the subject of a Department of Investigation probe last year, which made more than a dozen recommendations for reforms — none of which had been implemented by the start of the summer season, THE CITY found.
“We will continue to work closely to correct course on policies that don’t serve New Yorkers and pool resources from all agencies to ensure a fun and safe summer,” Adams said in a statement sent earlier this week.