A child wearing swimming goggles jumps into a pool. Other pool-goers and a slide are in the background.
Residents enjoy Baltimore's public pools. Credit: Recreation and Parks Twitter

As summer break draws near and temperatures are on the rise, pool season is upon us.

But Baltimore is in need of more lifeguards, and the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks is actively recruiting lifeguards for public pools.

The city has 23 indoor and outdoor pools that serve more than 27,000 individuals each year. Rec and Parks currently has 90 lifeguards, but they are looking to have a total of 120 for the summer.

This isn’t the first year the city has experienced a shortage, nor is Baltimore the only city facing a lack of lifeguards; it’s a nationwide concern, said Baltimore Recreation and Parks Aquatic Manager Nikki Cobbs.

“Although we’ve seen a lifeguard shortage nationally, in Baltimore City we were very intentional in developing a strategy to recruit lifeguards earlier this year,” Cobbs said. “We hosted the citywide championships [Baltimore City Public Schools’ citywide swim championships] at our Callowhill aquatics facility. So we took advantage of an in-person opportunity to talk about our lifeguard needs with parents and students.”

The city has worked to recruit young people to serve as lifeguards.

“We also created a lifeguard club, which gives youth the opportunity to teach their peers the skills to pass the lifeguard course,” Cobbs said. “And additionally, we’re offering a $500 bonus to lifeguards who are in good standing at the end of the season. Our recruitment strategy has us in a great position to staff our pools around the city this summer.”

This year’s lifeguard class will participate in a mile relay and a stroke clinic taught by U.S. Olympic swimmer Craig Beardsley.

If the staffing shortage persists, Rec and Parks does not plan to reduce pool hours. Instead, Cobbs said, they will adjust pools’ capacity as needed to ensure a safe lifeguard-swimmer ratio.

“For example, if someone came to Druid Hill Park Pool and we only had enough lifeguards to admit 200 people, we would send those additional people to Riverside Pool or Roosevelt,” Cobbs said. “We would send them to the closest pool in the city, so we’re actually not turning people away. We just would reroute them to have an opportunity.”

Since December, Rec and Parks has conducted seven lifeguard classes, using the American Red Cross curriculum. But there’s still enough time for those interested to apply, get certified, and begin summer work, as long as they can swim and pass the prerequisites. 

Classes are eight hours a day over four days.

Individuals must be at least 15 years old to become a lifeguard. But if a teen is 14 years old and has their 15th birthday before their classes end, they can apply.

The American Red Cross lifeguard certification is good for two years, so receiving certification this year allows opportunities for next year’s pool season as well.

20-year-old Dolton Hunt is in the fourth year of working as a lifeguard.

“From my very first year working with the city, it was great and everybody was friendly,” Hunt said. “The city made it easy to get the job and it was good pay for a 15-year-old kid.”

Pay depends on the position, but all certified lifeguards are paid above Maryland’s minimum wage.

A lifeguard one, which is a simple lifeguard, is paid $16 an hour. A lifeguard two, which is a water safety instructor that is certified to teach swim lessons, gets $17 an hour.

A pool operator, who ensures the waters are properly balanced but also has the lifeguard certification, is paid $18 an hour. The pool manager, who also holds the lifeguard certification, is paid $19 an hour.

Although the operator and manager have specific pool duties, they must have the certification in the event they need to be placed in rotation if there aren’t enough lifeguards available.

22-year-old Taylor Skinner, who has spent 2 years as a Baltimore City lifeguard, has been a lifelong swimmer and saw lifeguarding as a way to give back.

“I’ve been swimming since I was young and I felt why not repay all the people that taught me how to swim? Why not be able to teach those that come after me,” Skinner said.

Skinner enjoys teaching kids to be safe while having fun in the water.

“I see kids come in and they’re hesitant or scared of being in the water. And me being able to be that person that teaches them that, while it is a bit daunting it can be fun and enjoyable, that full circle moment is pretty rewarding in itself.”

Since Memorial Day weekend, the city’s park pools opened to operate on Saturdays and Sundays. Once schools let out on June 15, those pools will move to a seven-day schedule. Neighborhood pools will close on Sundays to operate on a six-day schedule.

Pool season officially ends Sept. 4. 

For additional information on pool locations, schedules, or to apply for a lifeguard position visit baltimorecity.gov

Latrice Hill is a Baltimore native and Morgan State University graduate who loves all the great things this city has to offer. She worked with WMAR 2-News as an Assignment Desk Editor before she joined...