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City Boosts Starting Pay to Fix Dire Lifeguard Shortage

But the change is only for this summer as the Parks Department races to get from 778 lifeguards to its goal of at least 1,400.

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Lifeguards overlooked opening day at the Hamilton Fish Pool in the Lower East Side, June 28, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The starting salary for New York City lifeguards is temporarily jumping to more than $19 an hour and a new crop of guards will watch mini pools this summer as Mayor Eric Adams looks to further reforms of the city’s troubled program.

The wage boost, first reported by NBC 4 New York on Friday, comes after weeks of pushing from officials and the union that represents lifeguards, District Council 37, as the city grapples with a lifeguard shortage that has threatened mass pool and beach closures. 

As of Tuesday, there were 778 lifeguards to watch New York City’s 53 pools and 15 miles of beaches – way under the Parks Department’s goal of 1,400 to 1,500 each summer, according to agency spokesperson Crystal Howard.

The previous starting salary for new lifeguards was $16 an hour, far below what guards on state and federal beaches nearby, and private pools, make.

Gov. Kathy Hochul raised wages for lifeguards at state-run beaches and facilities this year by 34%, boosting the starting salary at Jones Beach from $18.15 to $22 an hour. At YMCA pools, the starting pay is $18 with a $250 sign-on bonus.

The change is just for this summer, and includes a retention bonus in September to those who work through the end of the season, according to the mayor’s office.

“Every New Yorker deserves to safely enjoy our city’s public pools and beaches this summer and my team has taken extraordinary measures to make that happen,” Adams said in a statement.  

The city also is creating a new class of lifeguards that will only guard mini pools, which will free up other lifeguards to watch more dangerous beaches and larger pools, according to the mayor’s office.

Last week, Adams announced the city was lifting a decades-old rule that prohibits some city employees from moonlighting during the summer as lifeguards.

That change followed THE CITY’s reporting that dual-employment waivers, which previously allowed city first responders to also work lifeguard shifts, were denied this year for the first time.

Adams also announced a collaboration between the Parks Department, Fire Department, and the city’s Emergency Management agency to maintain a “public safety presence” to ensure swimmers are kept off of closed sections of beach and provide other safety measures.  

The intra-agency collaboration comes after questions by THE CITY about help provided to lifeguards on the most dangerous stretches of beaches along the Rockaway peninsula, including during ocean rescues and recovery efforts during drownings.

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