Hamilton Fish Pool on LES is Only City Pool in Manhattan Offering Youngsters Swim Lessons

A severe lifeguard shortage has persisted causing the city to close some of its ocean beaches in Rockaway and to cut back on all adult lap swim programs. The only city-sponsored learn to swim program for youngsters and toddlers currently being offered in Manhattan is at the Hamilton Fish pool on the Lower East Side.

| 14 Jul 2023 | 11:14

New Yorkers looking to cool off in the summer months will be glad to know that 13 of Manhattan’s outdoor pools remain open.

But due to a serious lifeguard shortage that looks to be even worse than last year’s, programs like lap swim and senior swim will not be offered this summer. Free swimming lessons for toddlers and children, on the other hand, will return in a limited capacity after a three-year hiatus.

In Manhattan, those lessons will be held at the Olympic-size, WPA-era Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side. Children can be registered for any of the three levels of classes through a lottery system on the NYC Parks website. In the past, such classes, part of the city’s Learn to Swim program, as well as swim programs for adults, were far more readily available.

The lifeguard shortage is not unique to New York; as Parks Commissioner Susan Donoghue put it to City Council members, “We are in the throes of a national lifeguard shortage,” she said. The American Lifeguard Association estimates that 100,000 pools across the US will be impacted.

New York City’s shortage seems to be especially extreme, though, as a result of fraught union politics—seemingly unresolved by a 2021 DOI investigation—a particularly difficult certification test for new lifeguards, and abnormally stringent training regulation.

The city boosted the starting pay for lifeguards last July, though it was too late to get most lifeguards certified for last year. And despite the pay hike from $16 an hour to $19.46/hour hammered out on last year’s contract, pay for city lifeguards still lags behind the wage for their state-employed counterparts, which last year was boosted from $18.15 to $22 an hour.

Programs for seniors and other adults, like the popular Early Bird and Night Owl Lap Swim, then, have suffered the most, though Parks Press Officer Izzy Verdery explained that “at some pools, where feasible, staff will set up lane lines to accommodate lap swimming.”

Still, a strain on the social environments of city pools seems likely. At Hamilton Fish, the only public pool in Manhattan where free programs for children are being held, Powell, a Parks Department employee, said that he had observed “a lot of tension.” The wading pool, usually frequented by children, has been closed since July 4, and Powell said that “having a lack of lifeguards [causes] me to explain to [visitors] why the pool isn’t open... I’ve been cursed out three days in a row like I have control over the lifeguards.”

Some visitors, on the other hand, haven’t noticed the effects of the lifeguard shortage. Elsa, a tourist from the Netherlands, said that her experience at the pool was “very good,” and that “there were a lot of lifeguards.” Another visitor, on their way out of the pool complex, said that their day “was okay. It was relaxed.”