Soaring housing costs, local crackdowns on summer-rental “shares,” increased competition from other employers and a pandemic-induced disruption of lifeguard certification programs have all combined to threaten programming and even pool availability for yacht and beach clubs and other properties, particularly in the swank Hamptons. “I didn’t think I would have trouble finding guards, but there is clearly a shortage,” said one manager. And one beach club member said that’s causing her and others to “crunch the numbers” and think, “If we don’t have lifeguards, maybe we need a refund.”
A shortage of lifeguards could mean a summer without water aerobics, lap swims and pool parties for children, all of which are the lifeblood of clubs, resorts and other properties in the swank Hamptons and elsewhere on Long Island as they try to rebound from the pandemic, The New York Times reported.
One beach club offered $200 a day and a room in Southampton to try to land needed lifeguard help, The Timesreported, and another, the Hampton Boathouses, offered to pay $2 more an hour.
While lifeguards are always in high demand in the Hamptons, this year’s shortage is worse by all accounts, The Times reported—the result of a lack of affordable housing, restrictions on seasonal workers and the shutting down of aquatic programs.
“I got no response from ads,” Mark O’Loughlin, who manages a few pools on Long Island, including the Hampton Boathouses in Hampton Bays, N.Y., told The Times. “I didn’t think I would have trouble finding guards, but there is clearly a shortage.”
Many businesses in the Hamptons depend on lifeguards, including yacht clubs, party planners and resorts, The Times reported. And if a pool cannot hire enough lifeguards for the season, there are ripple effects, including the extreme measure of being forced to close pool access.
The shortage has already been felt, The Times reported, as the East Hampton YMCA was forced to cut its hours this spring because of the lifeguard shortage.
But the current shortage applies mainly to private-pool lifeguards, The Times reported, with the towns of East Hampton and Southampton expressing confidence they will be able to secure enough ocean lifeguards for the season.
And what’s facing the private clubs is not going unnoticed by members, The Times noted.
“When you pay beach-club dues, you expect certain perks,” Ellen Levitsky, a member of the Water Mill Beach Club, a private club in Water Mill, N.Y. that fronts the ocean, told The Times. “A seven-day-a-week lifeguard is one of them. A lot of members are crunching the numbers thinking, ‘If we don’t have lifeguards, maybe we need a refund.’”
Part of the shortage stems from the region’s stratospheric real estate market, which makes it unaffordable for many lifeguards, The Times noted. That market got even tighter when well-heeled New Yorkers fled to the Hamptons during the pandemic.
A finished basement room in East Hampton these days could rent for $3,000 a month during the summer, while a lifeguard can expect to make around $2,800 a month during that time, The Times reported.
That is a far cry from the early 2000s, when it was not unusual for young lifeguards to pay $1,000 to share a no-frills house with a dozen roommates for the summer, The Times reported, and make some decent money while being able to spend the summer at the beach.
Local policies have also put the squeeze on lifeguards, The Times reported. In an effort to tamp down on the party scene, the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, which comprise the “Hamptons,” have restricted summer-rental “shares” in recent years.
Compounding the shortage is the changing labor market, The Times reported. Grocery stores, including Stop & Shop, now pay $17 to $19 an hour for entry positions, which is comparable to what many clubs pay their lifeguards, while also offering steadier hours and no certification requirements.
And then there is the pandemic, which shut down lifeguard certification programs in the spring of 2020, The Times noted. The Red Cross certified only 51,811 lifeguards in the country between January and April of 2020, compared to 98,570 the same period the year before, according to Stephanie Shook, its aquatics program manager. The certifications are valid for two years.
In anticipation of this summer’s need, the Red Cross redesigned and updated its training course and coursework, and offered virtual sessions when possible, The Times noted. However, when it comes to saving lives, not everything can be done online.
“You can’t have somebody test out in a hold with a mask on,” said Eileen Knauer, a spokeswoman for YMCA Long Island, which oversees the region. “That is just not possible. But I can’t allow someone to be recertified unless I can physically see that they can manage the test.”