From where he sits as president of the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based United Sates Lifesaving Association, Chris Brewster has concerns over how government cutbacks will hurt lifeguarding. "Just as cuts in the number of police officers are likely to result in an overall increase in crime, less lifeguards could mean more drownings," he says.
Brewster notes that budget cuts can affect all types of lifeguards, but many beach lifeguard operations now are part of fire and police departments both essential services so their budgets may be less vulnerable than those of lifeguards under recreation budgets. But no agency is immune and either way, budget cuts that affect lifeguards can create a public safety challenge.
Officials with limited funds can decide to either close a public pool or restrict operations. While closing pools is never good, there's little chance of an accident in a shuttered facility. It's not logistically possible to "board up" the beach, so in making cuts, the only option is to reduce lifeguarding (either by hours monitored or number of guards), and that puts swimmers at a greater risk.
"Beach patrons may not even be aware that the level of protection has been reduced," Brewster says.
If you're forced to cut your staff, he suggests a few options. You could consider limiting the guarded areas in your pool, (close off the diving well, for example) or alter protection during off-hours. Be sure to make any new restrictions clear to patrons and proactively restrict or prevent the use of unprotected areas.