Lifeguard shortage: Solutions sought as problem affects pools

Cities and swim training providers are looking for solutions to the lifeguard shortage that’s been impacting pools and programs across the country.

The impact has been felt at local pools, including in Vancouver, which has seen capacity reduced and scheduled swims canceled.

Dale Miller, executive director of the non-profit Lifesaving Society, said the shortage is also global, and the first two years of the pandemic have played a role.

“Certainly the biggest factor, I think, is that we have not had the training courses for almost a full two years,” he said. “The access has not been there because pools have been either shut down or limited access.”

Miller said the society is now seeing a jump in demand for training, with an 88 percent increase in people taking their lifeguarding course this year compared to the same time last year. However, national lifeguard certification takes time and money.

“Lifeguard training can take probably about 100 hours of training, and can cost about $1,500,” he said. “Subsidies are certainly helpful, and we see some municipalities doing that, in fact, in some cases no charge training…as part of the subsidy it would be very helpful to see government step in.”

Miller said Quebec in particular has offered funding to cover training.

In West Vancouver, the city is offering people with a Bronze Cross and Bronze Medallion free training to become a lifeguard and swim instructor as well.

In Vancouver, head coach Phil Skinder with the swim school Pacific Swim Academy said they started a lifesaving program on the beach when pool access became scarce in the pandemic, even sending swimmers to the National Lifesaving Championships.

He spoke at city hall in July, suggesting the city could partner with private user groups to help bridge the gap.

“If we have more programs, then we’ll have more lifeguards, we’ll have more kids involved in swimming,” he said.

“We’ve petitioned the city to be able to offer lifesaving programs at the beach and in the pools. We’d be ready to go within weeks.”

Skinder said the academy has found it difficult to rent pool space in the city, and a lot of pools have also been lost over the years without being replaced.

“However, we have all of this,” he said, pointing to the ocean. “The lifesaving courses, the Bronze medallion, Bronze cross, Bronze star, were all designed to be taught in open water…I think if we open up the beaches, we ran certificate programs, lifesaving development programs here on the beach, then we would certify more kids to become lifeguards.”

The Vancouver Park Board said it is planning a pilot project to reduce financial barriers for lifeguard training which it hopes to launch soon. The board said it has also been trying to streamline recruitment so new lifeguards are able to start work more quickly.

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