Heard Around Town

NYC lifeguards to get another raise, retention bonus

In a bid to avert another shortage, the city Parks Department will fork over $22 per hour.

New York City struggled to hire enough lifeguards for public beaches and pools in 2023.

New York City struggled to hire enough lifeguards for public beaches and pools in 2023. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Hoping to counter last summer’s historic shortage, New York City is again bumping pay for lifeguards under a new deal struck by the city Parks Department and the city’s largest municipal employees union, District Council 37.

Base hourly pay, already raised from $19 to roughly $21 last spring, will grow to $22 an hour for all lifeguards during the 2024 season. Returning seasonal lifeguards will also receive a $1,000 bonus if they work through the peak season. 

News of the agreement, shared exclusively with City & State ahead of its announcement, comes amid an ongoing national shortage of lifeguards. Staffing shortages during summer 2022 left some New York City pools shuttered and a number of swim programs canceled. Last summer’s shortage was again sizable, forcing pools to operate with capacity restrictions and roped-off sections.

The city has gradually raised salaries over the last couple of years and made some changes to ease the notoriously difficult qualifying exam prospective employees must take to become a New York City lifeguard. The Parks Department expanded its recruitment efforts amid last summer’s shortage, leading some New Yorkers over the age of 60 to pick up the whistle and watch over city pools. 

“As we remain laser focused on rebuilding our seasonal lifeguard ranks, this salary agreement will aid retention by rewarding returning lifeguards, while making lifeguarding a more viable and attractive career for new recruits,” New York City Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said in a statement. “Being a seasonal lifeguard is more than just a job – it's an opportunity to be a part of a brave team dedicated to public service.”

The seasonal hiring of lifeguards is not impacted by the city’s ongoing hiring freeze, according to a spokesperson for the parks department. Both New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have spotlighted swimming access and safety in recent months, unveiling plans to build a floating public swimming pool in the waters surrounding New York City.

To apply for a seasonal lifeguard position, interested individuals must be at least 16 years old by the time their employment begins. They also need to pass both a vision and swimming test. Qualifying exams began in December and will continue across the city through the end of February.

“While we battle the same shortages facing the rest of the country, this new agreement gives New York City a competitive edge while preparing for the summer and continuing our members’ legacy of keeping area pools and beaches safe,” said Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37. “We thank Commissioner Donoghue and (city Office of Labor Relations) Commissioner (Renee) Campion for their collaboration and commitment in tackling the issues of lifeguard recruitment and retention.”