Seattle's Child

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Not enough lifeguards for Seattle public beaches

Summer fun at Madison Park. Photo courtesy City of Seattle

Not enough lifeguards to staff all Seattle public beaches and pools

Here's the latest on what will be open and closed for the summer of 2022.

The numbers tell the story again in 2022. There are not  enough lifeguards to staff all of Seattle’s public beaches and pools this summer.

Generally, it takes more than 400 lifeguards to keep the city’s nine beaches, seven pools, and two outdoor pools safe, especially for young or inexperienced swimmers. As of this week, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department (SPR) had less than 200 lifeguards on staff. The shortage means that Matthews Beach, Seward Park Beach and East Green Lake Beach will not be open for swimming in summer 2022.

Beginning Saturday, June 25, the following beaches will be guarded daily from noon- 7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends:

  • Madison Beach, 1900 43rd Ave. E
  • Madrona Beach, 853 Lake Washington Blvd.
  • Magnuson Beach, park entrance at NE 65th and Sand Point Way NE
  • Mt. Baker Beach, 2301 Lake Washington Blvd. S
  • Pritchard Beach, 8400 55th Ave. S
  • West Green Lake Beach, 7312 W Green Lake Dr.

As for pools, the city announced that Medgar Evers, Evans and Queen Anne pools will be closed all summer. Here’s what will be open, and when.

Wading pools also start to open June 25, and spray parks already are open in Seattle and elsewhere. Farther south, here are pools, sprayparks and more in the Tacoma area.

Seattle is not alone. Despite increasing pay for lifeguards and offering other incentives in recruiting efforts, cities around Puget Sound are treading the same difficult waters. Most are having difficulty hiring enough certified lifeguards to stand watch over all public swimming facilities.

Why the shortage?

Some parents blame local parks departments for the dearth:

“When almost every lifeguard certification class was canceled in 2020 and 2021, this is what happens,” one parent wrote in response to a recent Seattle Times article on the subject. “We have teens who would have taken lifeguarding classes or recertification who gave up and found employment elsewhere. It was extremely difficult to find a recertification class for my teen in spring of 2021. What did local pools think was going to happen when they didn’t restart their lifeguard training programs?”

City spokesperson Rachel Schulkin points out that during the early years of the COVID-10 pandemic, Washington health officials kept pools closed to stop virus spread. 

“Swimming and lifeguarding are unmasked activities that take time to do so safely,” Schulkin said. “We have offered 11 lifeguard certification classes since September of 2021.”

A national issue

In fact, Schulkin added, the entire nation is facing a lifeguard shortage right now. 

“Our best guess is that with pools being closed for the first year or so of the pandemic, folks were forced to find other employment,” she said. SPR reassigned permanent lifeguards in the heat of the pandemic, but did not renew its temporary lifeguard positions. Long time closures of lifeguard training programs and lifeguard certification programs turned off the pipeline of new lifeguards. On top of that, the job market is highly competitive at this juncture.

Looking for teens, parents and grandparents

Schulkin stressed that SPR has been recruiting for full-time, part-time, temporary and permanent lifeguards since last September. Pay starts at $20 an hour and goes up based on experience and position. Experienced staff are especially needed to guard at beaches, where tides, wider areas, and large crowds make the job more challenging.

“It’s a great job for people of all ages,” Schulkin said. “You need strong swim skills but we do provide training to help pass the certification course.” SPR reimburses certification fees if a trainee is hired into one of its open positions. Parents, grandparents and teens interested in applying should go to the parks department job board.

Closed beach? Don’t risk it

Signage will go up letting people know when a beach is closed. However, Sulkin stressed that staff will not be at closed beaches to enforce the no-swimming rule. The department hopes the public will abide by the signs, but those who don’t need to know they swim at their own risk. 

“We ask that people only swim at lifeguarded beaches,” she said. “There are far too many drownings every year, and it happens across ages and demographics. Swimming at a lifeguarded beach is one way to swim safely.”

Check out the Seattle’s Child guide to swimming pools around the Seattle area.

Guide to swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) around the Seattle area

 

Published June 6, 2022; updated June 13

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is a certified doula, lactation educator and postpartum doula. She’s the owner of Nesting Instincts Perinatal Services in Seattle.