DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Just days ahead of one of the busiest beach weekends of the year, beach safety teams along Central Florida’s coast are planning how to keep swimmers safe while facing a massive shortage of lifeguards.
“We have the best of the best out there and we’re making up for lost gaps,” said Grace Scheuerman, a lifeguard for Volusia Beach Safety.
With fewer lifeguards on Volusia’s 47 miles of beach, those working, like Scheuerman, have more swimmers to watch this year.
“We used to have a tower maybe every quarter mile and sometimes we may have a tower every half mile now. It makes you a little bit more jumpy, ready to go because you might have a longer run,” she said.
Officials each day have to now decide where to put guards.
“We base what towers open based on historical data to where our busier areas are,” said Volusia Beach Patrol Capt. AJ Miller.
Miller said they usually have about 300 guards in the summer but this season they have been down almost 100.
Volusia even raised pay last year to try to combat the shortage. Guards now make about $13.24 an hour and get a $500 bonus.
They also added a third recruit class this year. The training it takes to become a guard makes rolling, year-round hiring almost impossible.
“Now we’re putting more emphasis on trying to get old guards to return. The reason being the process takes so long to get someone hired that we wouldn’t get them until August when the summer is over,” said Miller.
Brevard County Ocean Rescue said it’s also down 25% from its normal staffing level.
The American Lifeguard Association said the national shortage will affect half of the country’s pools, predicting many will either be unguarded or have to close.
Miller believes full workdays, no cell phones allowed on towers and physical requirements could be deterring younger generations.
“Your heart’s got to be in it. No one ever does this for the money. You can’t have your cell phone with you up on tower. These generations now are very attached to their cell phones social media and staying in contact with everyone but it’s important to watch the water and that’s where your focus has to be,” he said.
Scheurman said it is tough work but also rewarding.
“Being able to stay calm in those hard situations and being able to separate what you have personally going on in your life with what work is offering you right now,” she said.
Volusia Beaches updates its mobile app in real-time so you can see where guards will be. You can find that here.