The last time John McGowan remembers his lifeguards getting a raise was perhaps two or three years ago.
“I think with the economy the way it’s been,
they’ve kind of been on lock-down,” says the aquatics
superintendent at The Woodlands Township, Texas.
Due to the recent recession, McGowan’s 300 person-plus guard
staff is not alone. The same situation is true in many communities
“The economy has affected aquatics as it has so many others
out there,” says Roy Fielding, senior lecturer/ coordinator,
exercise science program, Department of Kinesiology, University of
North Carolina at Charlotte. “It’s like we’ve hit
a pause button.”
According to our annual survey of Aquatics International
readers, 65 percent of 471 respondents have been affected by the
As a result, the past three years have left operators treading
stagnant waters when it comes to salaries. What’s more, our
analysis shows that while the survey did reflect some good news, it
appears the waiting game will continue in 2011.
How do the numbers shake out? Only 20 percent of respondents
say that compared with 2010, they expect hourly salaries of
lifeguards to increase. Two percent expect hourly salaries to
decrease, while the majority, think hourly salaries of lifeguards
will remain the same for fiscal year 2011. That’s up nearly
25 percent from 2009.
Lifeguards aren’t the only ones who are seeing frozen
salaries. In 2009, 70 percent of survey respondents who identified
their roles as facility management said they had received salary
increases in 2008. In 2010, only 37 percent reported receiving
raises, and 60 percent expect their salary will remain the same in
2011. While 36 percent are expecting a raise, 3 percent are
prepared to see their salary decrease.
“It’s a double-edged sword. You can’t afford to
give raises, but you can’t afford not to give raises,”
says Kathy Fisher, aquatics director, West Morris (N.J.) Area YMCA.
“We have some longtime people we don’t want to be
without, so we have to take care of them. If we have staffers who
keep our members happy, then that pays the bills and keeps our
Staff by the numbers
Salaries aren’t really budging, and it appears neither is the
number of employees. Survey results show that generally, most
operators hire more than 25 lifeguards (full- and part-time), and
the majority of pool operators do expect to hire the same number of
staff members in 2011, compared with 2010. Almost 80 percent of
respondents believe the number of new hires will remain the same,
while 7 percent expect it to drop from last year’s levels.
That’s down 4 percent from 2010.
“If they’re hiring the same number of staffers, it
could mean they’re covering well, just maybe less
hours,” says aquatics expert Tom Griffiths, founder of
Aquatic Safety Research Group in State College, Pa.
So how much are first-year lifeguards making? The majority bring in
less than $8.99 an hour. According to our survey, 30 percent are
making between $7 and $7.99. Almost 40 percent of respondents say
the average hourly starting salary for a first-year lifeguard is
between $8 and $8.99, and that hasn’t changed at all in the
last two years. Only 15 percent make more than $10 an hour.
When it comes to management, the majority (more than 80 percent)
work full-time. Hourly salary for 27 percent of managers is $21 to
$25.99, but nearly 40 percent make more than that. When asked the
same question one year earlier, results were almost
On the job
The good news is, certifications and training still seem to be a
priority. Practically 100 percent of respondents require some in
service training. Most — 42 percent — schedule it
American Red Cross certification is the most widely required (84
percent), and between 80- and 90 percent of respondents require
CPR, AED and first aid certification. Only 35 percent require O2
certification. In addition, more than 90 percent have a certified
pool operator on site, either full- or part-time.
“I think there’s a growing trend in doing more
in-service training, and this is a positive,” Griffiths says.
“People are realizing, from a risk management standpoint,
they’re really going to be held liable. We’ve been
beating that drum for 15 or 20 years now, and I think it’s
finally catching on.”
Still, it appears that operators who can maintain the status quo
are becoming something of the new gold standard, at least for
“I think schools and municipalities are just trying to
maintain what they have,” Griffiths says.