A new problem with lifeguards in NJ as we finish August
You may have noticed some empty lifeguard chairs or even some closed beaches at the Jersey Shore recently.
As August rolls along, this issue may get worse as kids head off to college leaving behind a lifeguard shortage.
Beaches in Sea Girt, Belmar, and Avalon are prepared to give their existing lifeguards extra shifts, if needed, to cover the gap, as reported by News 12.
On Tuesday, Aug. 2 the swimming beach at A. Paul King County Park in Manahawkin closed because there just were not enough lifeguards to man the beach.
Asbury Park beaches were short seven lifeguards this summer than last year, said beach safety supervisor Joe Bongiovanni. Some guards didn’t return. Other guards are college students who took internships this summer and were only available to lifeguard a couple of days a week.
That really hurt the beach patrol, he said. But Bongiovanni hopes that as the internships wrap up, some may still be available to grab a shift or two to help out the rest of the summer. Starting Aug. 15 is when it can get challenging to man the beaches with enough lifeguards, he added.
“I also have some older guards, guys who have worked here for years and years and years. They have other businesses or have moved out of state, but they come in toward the end of the summer for a week or two to fill those spots,” Bongiovanni said.
He thinks with their help the Asbury Park beach patrol will be able to get through Labor Day weekend without too much of a problem.
Creative scheduling may also have to happen, he said. Some guards may have to work on their days off. He said the guys and girls have been great about chipping in and helping when it’s been tough.
The good news is that no beaches had to be closed during the summer despite the lifeguard shortage, Bongiovanni said.
He also believes another reason why there was a lifeguard shortage all summer was due to the pay scale.
“We were trying to stay pace with the state with the minimum wage. The minimum wage goes to $15 an hour next year so we were trying to stay pace with that,” he said.
But with inflation, other places like some big box stores and restaurants were paying between $18 and $20 to get people
“When you think about it, where you rather go? Sit out in the sun, learn first aid and CPR and be responsible for thousands of people’s lives for $15 an hour or go stock shelves for $17 an hour in an air-conditioned building,” Bongiovanni said.
He thinks they are going to have to restructure the whole salary guide for next year to bring the pay scale up and attract more kids.
In Cape May, five lifeguard stands are not open, so the beaches are about 10 guards short this summer, according to Rich Demers with the Cape May County Beach Patrol. However, 21 stands remain open on the beachfront and more than 20 beaches have been able to stay open at all times all summer.
At the end of next week, however, they will lose eight lifeguards as college kids return to school, he said. That means they will most likely have to close individual beaches and do a lot more guarding from the sand. That means making sure people swim in front of the lifeguards and not in unguarded areas. Demers said most beachgoers are extremely cooperative.
Just like in Asbury Park, another reason for the lifeguard shortage revolves around salary.
He said other beach patrols in the South Jersey region have upped the pay scale tremendously.
“For example, Avalon and Stone Harbor pay their rookie lifeguards $150 a day and our 25-year guards make $150 a day,” Demers said.
Housing has also been an issue. Many Cape May lifeguards come from far away and to travel back and forth daily is too much. In years past, lifeguards would just get housing for the summer.
The housing in Cape May is very difficult for the lifeguards to find in the summertime at a reasonable price.
Next season, Demers hopes the city will recognize the need to have an equitable pay scale with other municipalities.
“Hopefully, we can find a way with the housing. That’s going to be the biggest issue. We’re going to do a little bit more recruiting to the local swim teams. Obviously, if the kid lives locally, that takes care of the housing issue,” Demers said.
Cape May, NJ: 15 wonderful places to visit