🏖 Are New Jersey beaches fully staffed with lifeguards for summer 2023?

🏖 Low starting pay is one reason why there has been a guard shortage

🏖 Fully staffed or not, never swim at an unguarded beach

What does the lifeguard situation look like at Jersey Shore beaches this summer? In recent years, some beaches have had trouble staffing and recruiting lifeguards, mainly due to low pay, resulting in beach closures.

AP Seaside Heights Beach

Are beaches fully staffed?

But some beaches are fully staffed and ready for the summer 2023 season. Seaside Heights beaches have been fortunate, said Beach Patrol Chief Jay Boyd. Last year was one of their biggest rookie classes ever.

“We hired 17 new lifeguards last year, which was somewhat of a record for us. This year, we’re at 14 new lifeguards,” Boyd said.

So, the beaches at Seaside Heights are fully staffed with 55 lifeguards in total, and Boyd said he hopes it stays that way all summer long.

He said Seaside Heights beaches are fully staffed on weekends. During the week, there are five or six lifeguards on each side of their piers with lifeguard stands and a swimming area set up on the beaches.

The beaches at Seaside Heights will also be guarded through September. They go a week past Labor Day and two weekends after that because the water is still very warm and people want to squeeze out the last moments of summer.

Even though they are fully staffed, he is still hiring lifeguards. Once they’re full, if they find a good candidate, he would absolutely hire them.

Boyd said he has guards who leave in August to either go to college or play sports. Sometimes, he has kids who may have graduated college with the full intention of lifeguarding for the upcoming season as a sort of “last hurrah.” But then they get that call for a full-time job somewhere, which Boyd fully understands and expects to happen.

“We’re happy that they use this place as a stepping stone to go into whether it be law enforcement, medical doctors, or social work. We go across the board,” he said.

So, it’s good to have a bench of lifeguards to jump into these situations.

Asbury Park dubbed 2nd best US beach
Asbury Park dubbed 2nd best US beach (Erin Vogt, Townsquare Media)

In Asbury Park, Beach Safety Supervisor Joe Bongiovanni said his beaches are better off this year than last. Starting next week, after all the schools get out for the summer, he should be fully staffed every day for the rest of the summer.

Last year, he was short lifeguards and had to do some creative scheduling to get through the summer.

“But so far this year, I’ve been able to hire more lifeguards than I had last year, so right now we are fully staffed,” Bongiovanni said.

He said there are 60 lifeguards in total on the Asbury Park beaches. On the weekends, there are about 33 to 35 lifeguards working at a given time, and during the week, there are about 27 or 28 guards.

Since the starting pay for a lifeguard at the Asbury Park beaches and other beaches alike is around $16, Bongiovanni believes the low pay is contributing to lifeguard shortages.

“Kids can make decent money doing other things and they don’t want to go through the training and being responsible for people’s lives for not a lot of pay,” he said.

Bongiovanni said since he is fully staffed, he’s not looking to hire any more lifeguards. However, starting in the middle of August, some guards will be heading off to college and he’ll be short-staffed again. That’s when he’ll be looking to hire again.

He said he will get guards who only work during the month of August. There are others who were doing summer internships but those end by August, so they’ll step up and lifeguard for the rest of the summer, too.

attachment-no lifeguard

Safety at the beach

Both Boyd and Bongiovanni agree on the number one beach safety rule. Never swim without a lifeguard present or after hours when lifeguards go home for the day. Unfortunately, that is when the majority of drownings occur.

Don’t dig big holes in the sand on the beach. Every year there is a tragedy in the news where a hole caved in on somebody because they dug it deep. Boyd said he’s seen 8-foot-deep holes. Nobody should be digging a hole deeper than their knee.

Always follow the signals of the lifeguards. They won’t steer you wrong, Boyd said. Always pay attention to your surroundings.

Bongiovanni said the lifeguards are very knowledgeable. They know where the safest places are to swim, they know where the rip currents are, and where the dangers in the water may be. Those conditions can change with the tide, the weather, and with wind conditions.

“They vary from day to day and from beach to beach. But the experts are the lifeguards that work those beaches. They know the beaches. They know where the safe points are and they can be your best resource,” Bongiovanni added.

Lifeguard training (Photo Credit: NJ DEP)
Lifeguard training (Photo Credit: NJ DEP)

Lifeguard criteria

Lifeguards must be at least 16 years old. All the guidelines fall under the certification of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA).

“The minimum requirement is that you have to be able to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or under and that eliminates a lot of people right away,” Bongiovanni said.

In addition to that, lifeguards have to be certified in advanced first-aid and CPR which, if they are hired, we do that training, Bongiovanni added. Once they are hired, the recruits are put through an extensive program to teach them all the skills that they need to become a full-time lifeguard.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol held tryouts for lifeguard candidates this past weekend on the 18th Street beach.

Prospective lifeguards had to take competitive tests including a 500-meter ocean swim, a 500-meter ocean paddleboard, a one-half mile beach run, a 500-meter erg, and a surf dash which is a short sprint from beach to stomach-deep water, and back.

When you think about the number of people on beaches and the number of lifeguards on duty there to protect them, it can be a daunting task. So, if the public does their part and pays attention to what the lifeguards are instructing, it should be a safe and fun summer at Jersey beaches.

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