What is a life worth? I’ve asked this question
in various ways over the years, but it’s always
been more of a rhetorical question than something that can
be answered. But as the nation stumbles through the worst
economic downturn since the Great Depression, that is no
longer just a question. In Michigan, a life is worth
$20,000. In California, it’s worth $50,000.
Those are the savings that cities and governments are
making to cut lifeguards in those two states. And in making
those cuts, those elected officials are answering the
question of how much a life is worth.
That may sound dramatic, but to anyone with any aquatic
experience, it’s a simple fact: When lifeguards
are eliminated, people are going to drown. Life will be
I understand that difficult budget decisions must be
made. Most states don’t have the luxury of the
federal government. They can’t run deficits. But
when deciding where to cut, these officials must be made to
understand that when they eliminate lifeguards, they are,
in effect, signing a death sentence. It’s up to
aquatics professionals to make them understand that
If you’re not sure how, I recommend taking a
page from the Huntington Beach (Calif.) lifeguards. After
40 years of protecting a particular stretch of beach,
guards were cut as part of an across-the-board, 2 percent
trim in city services. In response, guards started handing
out fliers warning beach-goers of the risk they now faced.
“NO staffed lifeguard towers, NO lifeguard
patrols, NO beach or water surveillance to prevent
accidental drowning or prevent other related injuries and
fatalities,” the flier states.
Some city officials cried foul. The fliers were
“inflammatory” and unnecessarily ginning
up fear, they claimed. Here are the facts: Last year,
lifeguards rescued 70 people on that beach. So how,
exactly, is a flier warning of the dangers that will now
exist if lifeguards are absent
“inflammatory?” Seems to me it’s
a public service that the city should be thanking guards
for volunteering to offer, especially when someone drowns
and the city gets sued.
Unfortunately, the two examples I mentioned are just a
close-up of the larger problem facing aquatics.
Facilities across the nation are being asked to do more
with less. If that leads to fewer lifeguards, people will
That’s the stark reality examined in our
special report (page 22). I urge you to read it. Then think
about what it means at your facility and how you can fight
to maintain your lifeguard staff and ensure public
Anything less is a death sentence.