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This sinks: NYC cancels free outdoor swim lessons amid lifeguard shortage

New York City’s free swimming programs have been torpedoed again this summer by a “national shortage of lifeguards,” the Parks Department said.

“Due to the national lifeguard shortage, unfortunately we will not be hosting swim programs, including lap swim, senior swim, and Learn to Swim, at our outdoor pools this summer,” the city agency posted on its Twitter account Monday afternoon.

The department said its 52 outdoor pools “will remain open each day for general swim from 11am-3pm and from 4pm–7pm.”

Pools across the country have struggled to hire guards in a tight labor market. Around a third of the country’s 309,000 pools are in danger of being unable to even open, according to the American Lifeguard Association.

Big Apple parks officials canceled outdoor swim programs in 2020 due to COVID-19 and again last summer due to hiring challenges.

In today’s tight labor market, public pools across the nation are struggling to hire lifeguards.
Helayne Seidman for NY Post

“It sucks,” said Grisel Rodriguez, 33, a substitute teacher, Sunset Park resident and mother of an 8-year-old.

“Those programs were free and it was helpful to parents especially in this community who come from low income households,” she said. “I know many kids who learned how to swim here so it’s unfortunate.”

The news comes on the heels of the deaths of two NYC teens who drowned while swimming in Jamaica Bay in eastern Queens. The boys, both 13, drowned when a sandbar they were standing on collapsed and they became submerged.

“You hear about these kids in Queens and the Bronx getting swept up to the sea…it’s too bad,” said Alicia, another Sunset Park resident who declined to share her full name.

Tony Sanchez, father of five, is worried of the trouble that kids mights get into without available pool programs.
Tony Sanchez, father of five, is worried of the trouble that kids mights get into without available pool programs.
Paul Martinka for NY Post

“You would think it would be a good jobs program if the city put money in it for lifeguards, but I guess they have other priorities.”

Father of five Tony Sanchez, 54, of Red Hook, told The Post he worried kids would get into trouble without pool programming available.

“They’ll stay stagnant at home. Some of these kids will get hit by cars because they’re outside too early or nobody is watching them,” Sanchez said. “It’s bad. It’s bad.”

Grandmother Ramona Melendez also worried about how the kids would stay entertained while spending summer in the city.

“No! They can’t close it down. What are we supposed to do with the kids?” she fumed outside the Red Hook houses. “They’re stuck upstairs and have nowhere to go to play. It’s not fair. “

Melendez, 60, said officials should be offering higher rates for lifeguards.

“They should give them more money because they are working a lot to teach these kids how to swim,” she said.

NYC outdoor pools officially open June 28. The city will continue to hire guards through July 4.

“Like the entire country, it’s been a challenge recruiting enough qualified people who can pass the NYC Lifeguard requirements, and pandemic impacts on recruitment continue,” department spokeswoman Crystal Howard said in a statement.

Amid a national lifeguard shortage, free swim programs are being cancelled across NYC this summer.
The lifeguard shortage means NYC will not host free swim lessons in 2022.
Stephen Yang for NY Post

“We continue to encourage all former NYC Parks Lifeguards, who are in condition, to come out and get re-certified for the Summer 2022 season.”

Mayor Eric Adams on Wednesday morning pledged to “examine” the issue.

“I’m going to reach out to Parks, and figure out how we can continue the instruction. We have to have young people learn how to swim,” he said during an interview on NY1.

“We have a major problem across the country with lifeguards shortages, all over.”

Additional reporting by Sam Raskin

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