A number of local authorities have had difficulty recruiting sufficient lifeguards to patrol beaches across the country this summer.
Fingal County Council is one of the local authorities experiencing a significant recruitment shortfall, having recruited 28 lifeguards despite needing 35 to provide a seven-day service on all its beaches during July and August. “The reduced number of [lifeguards] will see us having to close some lifeguard stations at the quieter beaches in order to provide a full service at the busier and more challenging locations,” a spokesperson said.
Similarly, Sligo County Council ideally would like to have 15 lifeguards but has only 12 for this summer. “We have sufficient cover, albeit we are operating on a skeleton staff,” a spokesperson said.
“There is a lifeguard shortage on an annual basis, and it’s a nationwide issue,” said Sligo County Council, as huge crowds are expected to flock to the country’s beaches this bank holiday weekend.
The issue of water safety came into sharp focus with the tragic death of Wassiou Ayawe (19) on Wednesday in a jet-ski incident on Lough Derg, Killaloe, Co Clare.
Dún-Laoghaire Rathdown County Council “may” have 15 lifeguards to supervise on a rostered basis its Sandycove, Seapoint and Killiney beaches. “The on-boarding of lifeguards can be an iterative process,” a spokesperson said, “as they may not be available on a full-time basis for the summer due to third-level exams, Leaving Cert exams, family holidays etc. Rosters are generally planned week by week as they are subject to lifeguard availability.”
By contrast, Waterford County Council can call on 35 full-time lifeguards and a panel of substitute lifeguards to patrol its seven beaches this summer.
Likewise, Wicklow County Council will employ 27 lifeguards to cover its seven beaches, with Arklow South commencing lifeguard cover from July 1st, as normal, due to the low use of this beach by the public.
Kerry County Council was able to call on 41 lifeguards in 2022 for its 13 blue-flag beaches, with the target being 42 lifeguards this summer.
There appears to be some difference in rates of pay for lifeguards across the local authorities. In Sligo, a junior and senior lifeguard receive €15.24 and €17.22 per hour respectively, while their counterparts in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown receive €13.04 and €15.93 respectively. The national average appears to be approximately €15.50 per hour.
The minimum requirement to be employed as a lifeguard is an internationally recognised beach lifeguard qualification such as the Irish Beach Lifeguard award. Some local authorities have additional requirements.
For example, in Waterford, successful candidates must also pass the outdoor local authority beach lifeguard test and an interview. In Kerry, candidates are also required to undergo a practical test in basic life support, swimming ability, lifesaving techniques and a theory test.
Challenges facing local authorities in recruitment of lifeguards include a lack of public or private transport, a desire to travel, lack of availability of temporary affordable accommodation, a wish to obtain more flexible working hours and higher pay elsewhere, as well as the commitment to and cost of the training and qualification involved, and a lack of qualified coaches within the relevant local area.