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A lifeguard shortage again makes summer swim season less fun while keeping everyone protected

New York City’s beaches open this morning at 10 and close at 6 this evening and will do so daily until after Labor Day. Unlike other places that charge admission to public beaches or limit their use to residents, the 14 miles of surf, sand and sun spread across seven different shores in four boroughs (sorry Manhattan) are free to all.

But we must stress to only use the beach when lifeguards are on duty. The water looks inviting, but it can be deadly, even to strong swimmers. And this summer, once again, the Parks Department is facing a lifeguard shortage, a national problem.

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue needs around 1,400 lifeguards to fully staff the beaches and the 48 outdoor pools that open on June 29, after school is out (another five pools are being repaired this summer, including the Lasker and Astoria giants.) Last year, Donoghue struggled with just 875 lifeguards and it meant that pool programs, from lessons for kids to laps for adults to hours for seniors, were canceled.

This summer, while Learn to Swim lessons will be back, they will be limited to just one pool per borough (two in Queens) and held during general public hours. As for hours for laps and seniors, there will be none due to the shortage.

Even if all of last summer’s 875 lifeguards returned, there are only 200 new recruits who are in training. Of the veterans, 230 are in recertification, so we plead with their colleagues to come back. The pay has been raised.

And speaking of lifeguards and pay, lifeguard union boss Peter Stein is a city employee with the title of “chief lifeguard” who made $179,943 last year. He should have been fired when he refused to talk to Department of Investigation probers. While the union is free to have the leader it wants, why is Stein continuing on the city payroll?

Stein is 78, but he is still a lifeguard, so make him pass the swim test: 440 yards in 7 minutes and 40 seconds.

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