News7 In Depth


Calling all lifeguards: Staff shortages lead to capacity limits, later opening dates at water parks

Posted at 5:35 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 18:18:39-04

(WXYZ) — Washtenaw County's Rolling Hills Water Park usually opens the holiday weekend to a long line, but the pandemic and a shortage of lifeguards has pushed everything back.

"Our normal capacity is actually about 2,300. But this year, we're limiting it to 500 people per day. And that's mainly due to our staffing shortage," said Rhonda Bouma, Rolling Hills Water Park superintendent.


And the shortage of lifeguards has been a national one, add a pandemic and it's leaving a number of water parks like Washtenaw County's Rolling Hills in Ypsilanti opening on June 21. Guests won't be able to stand in line for a ticket. You'll have to purchase them online.

Courtesy U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

"I think definitely people are going to be disappointed. I think it's a summer staple especially here in Michigan with people getting out to beaches and water parks, pools, and lifeguards are the backbone of that. So if we don't have lifeguards, we can't open up to capacity and serve as many people as we normally would," said Rhonda.

In Detroit, as of right now, Wayne County has no plans to even open the Family Aquatic Center at all this season. A spokesperson says there's just too much they'd have to do to mobilize and recruit enough people to work here.

"We are really struggling to find new recruit staff, especially lifeguard staff, we are substantially short on the lifeguard staff that we need to fully operate this park at this time," said Matt Pardy, Red Oaks County Park supervisor.

He said they haven't even set an opening date yet due to staffing shortages at the water park in Madison Heights.

"Right now, we're still very shy of even being able to do a partial opening," said Matt.

Olympic swimmer Rowdy Gaines said parents should keep a close eye on their children in the water whether a lifeguard is on duty or not.

"Drowning can happen in as little as 30 seconds," said Rowdy.

His first tip: designate a water watcher.

"One adult, you're watching these kids for half an hour. And that's all you're doing. You're not on your phone, you're literally for the next half hour. And then just you know, stagger those half hour increments, that's a little simple ways to be able to get the job done," he said.

Another way to keep kids safe: swimming lessons. Rowdy is working with the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance in their "Step Into Swim Campaign" to educate people on water safety and help children in underserved communities learn how to swim.

So if you're ready to help keep people safe and become a lifeguard, Red Oaks and Rolling Hills are ready for you.

"We're definitely excited to get back open. We miss in the faces of the people having fun in the water park. We're excited to get going again. Even if it's under limited circumstances," said Rhonda.