Why Ocean City can’t recruit lifeguards

In Maryland, Ocean City’s beach patrol is having a hard time recruiting lifeguards for the upcoming summer season.

Why? People who sign up to take the test don’t show up. The pay isn’t as high as at neighboring beaches. And housing at the beach costs a lot for the summer.

During the Ocean City Council budget meeting on April 11, Capt. Melbourne “Butch” Arbin III with the Ocean City Beach Patrol said folks who registered online to take tests scheduled at three schools during the winter didn’t always appear in person.

“We’ve held tests this winter beginning in February at Salisbury University, and we went to the University of Maryland and York College,” Arbin said. “For the York College test, we had 37 people preregistered. Seventeen showed up. So it’s easy to sign up. It’s hard to show up. I write to every person that doesn’t show up, and I try to communicate with them.”

Housing costs are another issue Arbin brought up when asked about this year’s lifeguard recruitment efforts. He said there is rental assistance support for returning employees.

“We don’t help them pay the rent, we front the rent, because most seasonal places in Ocean City expect all deposits and all rent paid by May 1, almost two full months before our college students who work for us get their first paycheck. They don’t have that money sitting around,” Arbin said.

Ocean City will front returning employees the rent money and deduct it from paychecks, if the lifeguards fill out the proper paperwork.

“That’s helping a lot. We don’t do that with first-time employees.”

Then there is the hourly pay rate.

“We’re also finding there’s a wage war going on in Delaware,” Arbin said.

He said the starting pay for Ocean City lifeguards is less than neighboring beach patrols, and when yearly raises are factored in, a third-year lifeguard in Ocean City still makes less than a lifeguard starting at other beach patrols.

“We used to be above everybody else in what we paid. Our guards have a more difficult job to do, because in Ocean City, they sit one per stand, they work a 7 1/2 hour shift, and they get a half-hour for lunch,” Arbin said.

“They are responsible for guarding the beach, providing medical care, enforcing laws and ordinances. They have a lot to do. If they go to another beach patrol, they sit two per stand, they get an hour on the beach, maybe an hour off the beach.”

Arbin said lifeguards “do an incredible job”, but it’s more challenging.

“In Delaware now, many of the patrols are at $15.25, starting. We’re at $13-something starting, and for every year they come back, they get a 50 cent an hour raise, so a third year guard working up in Fenwick Island is making like $16-something an hour, compared to a third-year guard in Ocean City making $14-something an hour.”

Ocean City budget manager notes the differences in pay are temporary. Minimum wage hikes set to start in January will raise pay for the 2020 season to $15.25 an hour.

Arbin said he is been reaching out to last year’s lifeguards to see who is available to return and work the beach this summer.

Learn more about employment opportunities with Ocean City Beach Patrol, including the testing schedule. The next test is scheduled for April 28.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up