Beaches create programs to retain and find qualified lifeguards

As the early morning sun beats down on the Jersey Shore’s sandy beaches, lifeguards run through training exercises. They prepare to keep a watchful eye and potentially save lives. The American Lifeguard Association says they want to see even more lifeguards on the job — not enough people are applying for the position.

“There’s what I would consider a shortage of lifeguards. There’s not as many applications coming in as there has been in years past,” said Wyatt Werneth of the American Lifeguard Association.

“We have been hearing that they are struggling, a couple beach patrols are struggling to get quality guys and girls,” Seaside Heights Beach Patrol Captain Rob Connor said.

“I would like to think there’s a variety of other jobs out there, higher paying jobs in some cases,” Werneth said.

Werneth says more students are staying in school and continuing their education which also is shrinking the application pool. Lifeguards also have to become CPR certified and pass a test.

“If they have to go through all the training we require and they’re making the same thing that they can make down the road with some lesser intensive job, they’re most likely going to go for that rather than having to put all the time in,” he said.

“It’s almost like any Fortune 500 companies, you have to recruit, you have to give some type of incentives, you have to have a positive work environment,” Seaside Heights Beach Patrol Chief Jay Boyd said.

Seaside Heights Beach Patrol is fully staffed with about 50 lifeguards. Boyd says they’ve created a new pay structure. lifeguards start at $10 an hour, but can increase to $14 an hour or higher depending on seniority. They can also work extended hours during the weekend. He thinks it’s one of the reasons why his patrol doesn’t have an issue finding interested applicants.

“We try to talk them into thinking they’re professional athletes, which they pretty much are. The NFL gets paid to work out, you come here you get paid to work out. And we don’t want people here just for the money, alright? They have to perform they have to love the job,” Boyd said.

A junior lifeguard program can help young people learn to do just that, love the job, says the American Lifeguard Association. Werneth says the program’s vital in grooming future lifeguards.

Seaside Heights Beach Patrol has had their own junior lifeguard program for the past 15 years. Kids as young as six years old can join through 16. It’s a six week summer course where t hey learn everything from weather conditions, to the tides, basic lifeguard and rescue procedures, first aid and they also strengthen their swimming abilities. Many of the lifeguards here were a part of the program.

“Being part of the junior lifeguard program it made me even more excited to come here and actually be a lifeguard. I love staying up on that stand and looking out into the water and knowing I’m there and people are counting on me to be able to save their lives,” said lifeguard Rebekah Hatrak.

That’s something these lifeguards all think about on duty.

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