Lifeguards in short supply this season at town beaches

Jun 15, 2021

Beach-goers are urged to be especially vigilant this summer as Dartmouth faces a lifeguard shortage, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Lancaster said.

“We have the lowest amount of lifeguards in my 21 years here,’’ he noted.

According to Lancaster, the town’s beaches will remain open with lifeguards on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but there may be fewer lifeguards than usual.

During this staffing shortage, the American Red Cross urges the public to avoid distractions when supervising children in the water, to teach children to ask permission before approaching the water, and to make sure they swim with a friend.

Children are also advised to wear life jackets, with close supervision. 

The parks director said several factors led to this situation. 

Because of the pandemic, lifeguard certification classes were cancelled, which he said reduces the pool of candidates.

The town also faces competition in hiring lifeguards from private industry, where Lancaster said there are “tons and tons and tons of jobs for teens’’ this year. 

These jobs, he noted, do not require a $300 fee for lifeguard certification.

Another reason, he said, is that the state also pays more than the town for lifeguards, which further reduces the candidate pool for Dartmouth. The state currently pays $17 an hour for lifeguards, while Dartmouth rate is $15.50 per hour.

Even a slight increase in hourly rate appeals to teens, Lancaster said, as they look to put gas in their cars and save for college. 

“Even if it’s just five cents more an hour, they’re going to go for it,’’ he said.

All of this adds up to what the Parks Director described as a “perfect storm’’ of conditions.

As restrictions lift and society opens up, Lancaster believes the pool of lifeguards will grow next year and staffing should improve.

“Hopefully we’ll get back to normal next year,’’ he said.