With Lifeguard Shortages, How To Stay Safe While Swimming

As the U.S. faces a serious lifeguard shortage this summer, officials are sharing water safety warnings to anyone heading to the pool or beach.

About one-third of the nation’s more than 300,000 public parks and pools have been affected by the shortage, according to the American Lifeguard Association, with some pools forced to reduce their hours or shut down entirely.

“We do have more people coming to the beaches and water parks and pools than we’ve ever had,” Wyatt Werneth, a spokesperson for the American Lifeguard Association, told NBC News’ Miguel Almaguer. “But we have less lifeguards.”

The shortage is partly a ripple effect from earlier COVID-19 lockdowns, when lifeguard training programs were put on hold.

With fewer lifeguards on duty this summer, here are some important water safety tips for families.

Pool safety tips

  1. Designate a “water watcher”: The American Lifeguard Association recommends designating an adult to keep an undistracted eye on kids in the water. Take the job in shifts so that the watcher is always alert.

  2. Put away the devices: Even being distracted for a few seconds by your phone can be dangerous when watching children in the water. Make sure your full attention is on the pool at all times.

  3. Use a life jacket when needed: Less experienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket in the pool, NBC’s Kerry Sanders told TODAY earlier this month.

  4. Know the warning signs of drowning: Someone who is drowning may not be able to splash in the water or call for help. Adults supervising kids in the water should know how to recognize the subtle signs of drowning, which can be silent and quick.

  5. Know how to swim: Before hitting the water, ensure that every member of your family has at least basic swimming skills, including entering the water, staying afloat, swimming from one point to another and safely exiting the pool, the American Red Cross recommends.

Beach safety tips

  1. Factor in fatigue: Even strong swimmers can get tired after a long time in the water, so take breaks and know your physical limits.

  2. Have the right gear: If you’re out on a boat, ensure there is a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every person on board.

  3. Be aware of hazards: The American Red Cross recommends staying aware of dangerous water conditions such as changing tides, underwater debris and rip currents. Also, take all weather warnings seriously and leave the water immediately if you notice thunder or lightning.

  4. When in doubt, don’t go out: If you have any doubt about weather conditions or your own energy levels or swimming ability, play it safe and don’t go in the water.

  5. Never swim alone: “Regardless of your age or level of swimming skills,” you should always have someone with you in the water, according to the American Red Cross.

  6. Stick to lifeguarded areas: While the lifeguard shortage is unfortunately making this more difficult, the American Red Cross’s number one water safety tip is to only swim in lifeguarded areas of the beach. Lifeguards can alert swimmers to unsafe water conditions such as rip currents, which are “responsible for most rescues performed by lifeguards,” according to the organization.