RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Like many cities across the country, Raleigh is grappling with a shortage of lifeguards at start of the pool season.

The city typically needs at least 200 part time staff to fully operate during the peak season. Currently, the city has 85 lifeguards. They need 75 more lifeguard to be fully staffed. The shortage means the city can’t operate its pools in full capacity.

While seasonal city pools typically open Memorial Day weekend, this year, openings were pushed to June 10. They’ll be open only on weekends. Some pools like Longview, Biltmore, Lake Johnson and Ridge will be delayed several weeks. Visitors are asked to call ahead for individual opening dates and operating hours for each individual pool.

City Manager Marchell Adams-David told city council this week one of challenges was making lifeguarding appealing to young people. She said the city’s issue isn’t completely about pay. Pay for lifeguards went up from $9 to to $13 this year.

“It’s trying to figure out what young kids like to do- as opposed to when we were younger kids and lifeguard during the summer was a great job. Nowadays, kids have so many opportunities, it’s not as appealing,” Adams-David said.

As the city works towards getting up to staff, Parks Department Assistant Director Ken Hisler said there may need to be some give and take. Hisler is considering relocating staff from year-round pools to seasonal pools.

“That may mean I will have to limit access to some of our year-round spaces to like a Millbrook, like a Pullen, like an Optimist, in order to gain more access to our seasonal operations,” Hisler said.

Hiring lifeguards was a challenge that started before the pandemic.

“This is something that has been plaguing the industry for many years. The COVID pandemic only exasperated that,” said Hisler.

Looking ahead, Hisler told city councilmembers this week his department is also considering offering retention bonuses, signing bonuses, premiums for working weekends and paid training time.

Hisler told city councilmembers this week that his department is actively recruiting. One job fair saw interest from six people. Only three of those were able to pass the swim test.

Adams-Davis told councilmembers they city is in talks with representatives at NC State to see if people in their swim program may be interested in the open lifeguard positions. She added other cities have asked her if Raleigh might have lifeguards they could borrow. Her answer to them: “Absolutely not,” Adams-David said.

Becoming a lifeguard for the city requires the following:

  • 15 years of age or older
  • Pass City of Raleigh controlled substance and background tests
  • Swim 300 continuously with rhythmic breathing. Freestyle and breaststroke, not stopping. 
  • Tread water using only legs for two minutes
  • Swim 20 yards, retrieve a 10 lb. object from the bottom of the pool, return object to starting position and exit the water in 1 min 40 seconds

Hisler said that at a recent job fair, six people were interested in the position but only three passed the swim test.

Click here to learn more about the position or to apply.