How to Fix the LifeGuard Problem in NY

The kids are finally getting to the point where they can ride bikes, hike and swim. In fact, throw a floaty on either of them and I have no problem dumping them in the middle of a lake and having them swim back to the boat. I haven’t- yet, but we kayak A LOT.. and the topic has come up a few times. What started to astonish me this summer, every single park, beach or campground we went to there was a big nasty sign:



Normally I would have just glossed this over as “well, yea, that makes sense I guess..”. However, as we spend more and more time traveling, camping and exploring different states (especially those by the ocean) you begin to get a feel for how others outside your bubble live. 


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You start asking yourself, is our tiny little beach really less safe than… the ocean?

I’ve never enjoyed how much regulation NYS puts up with, but I’ve put up with it. In the years I make lots of money, I pay my fair share of taxes, and then some. What irks me are these stupid signs. They’re constant reminders that, while you can drive a car, have a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, vote republican, or worse- democrat, join a union, let someone else manage their monty and make other odd life choices. You can’t swim in NY unless a 17 year old is there to “watch” you.

Ironically this “someone” has probably never voted, probably hasn’t graduated college yet and doesn’t pay taxes (eg: 17, 18 and 20 year olds). I get it, swimming is a risk and you could ultimately drown, eaten by sharks or worse, death by algae! Let’s look past that for a moment though and actually look at some of the data. There’s a paragraph on page 21 that’s fascinating to me:

“Many drowning incidents occur at lifeguarded facilities. It is believed that this is because the number of bathers present is much greater at lifeguarded bathing facilities.”

You might read this as- well yea, with more people there should be lifeguards on duty, it sort of proves the regulation, right? Wrong. It proves that in circumstances where even with the regulations in tact MORE PEOPLE STILL DIED. In other parts of the data, it shows that most drownings happen to 16-25 year olds.

These kids are likely not being safe, could possibly intoxicated and are going to swim whether or not there’s a lifeguard on duty or not. The data proves, both that car accidents without a supervised lifeguard in your back seat are more likely than drowning, but also that even with a lifeguard on duty, you still have a chance of drowning.



“Lifeguard distraction/not recognizing victim and lifeguard positioning are the most frequently identified contributing factors pertaining to supervision”

Regulations are what they are and instead of being data-driven, they’re society’s fear mongering way of over-solving a problem without the use of data. This is important because as these stupid ideas pile up, they raise the cost of doing business, the costs of living and ultimately drive people away, tourists and homeowners alike. Sorry Cuomo- it isn’t the weather. It’s because you and your counterparts are effing a-holes who don’t use data to make good choices. Actually, this is where most regulation comes from, the public’s irrational fear at outlier circumstances they can rarely control.

How do you fix this? Simple. Swim at your own risk signs are a good start. It works in every other state, why not open our beaches up so businesses around the beach can flourish. The more use they get, the more business opportunity there is- and if the data tells us anything, the more lifeguards we’ll be able to keep staffed as their popularity increases. For the spots less popular, kids are going to swim there whether you like it or not.

The ones that are prone to drowning (sorry, it’s the truth), the data shows they will likely drown, but it will be less frequent. All we’re doing is making them criminally negligent in the process (for NO GOOD reason). All while driving up local costs of having to enforce a rule most people don’t agree with anyway. Like any other problem in society, if you really look at the data maybe you’d be better off investing in your 16-25 year olds instead of regulating everybody the same way.

Make lifeguard training and swimming instruction mandatory for all 14-16 year olds in school. If your local township feels the need to regulate further, treat it the same way we treat fishing and boat licenses. Anyone under the age of 21 (or 25 based on the data) needs to complete a swimming safety course in order to use “less regulated beaches”. You can drive a boat, but you can’t swim unsupervised? Makes no sense. You let your 18 year old drive a car, ALONE!

Over regulation tends to rob our younger generations of the lesson in taking risk. They suggest “you can’t do this cause there’s a 0.01% you might uncontrollably die” rather than “there’s a 0.01% chance you might die. They miss sending the more important signal suggesting “you’re in the highest risk age bracket, do this at your own risk but you should be well trained if you chose to do this, and here.. we’ll help you”.

Over regulation of stupid things isn’t a “red vs blue” argument. There’s fundamental mis understanding of risk among our younger generation and everyone’s sitting around and trying to understand why. It’s simple- if you try and regulate risk out of something, especially something where the risk based decisions was clearly not based on data, most people will just simply break the law. When you have a law on the books like that, you spend more time and money trying to enforce it and less resources trying to simply reduce the risk in a targeted manner.


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You’re likely not ever going to die from swimming at an unsupervised beach. You’re more likely to die from a car crash, old age or a bad diet. I absolutely love lifeguards (I was trained in HS myself) and the service they provide. I have two small children and that extra set of eyes helps make all the difference, as you’ll note from the data- that’s not the target audience. It’s tax payers like me.

People who would love to make more use of our public beaches but like to consider themselves law abiding citizens. People who are able to make investments in our local infrastructure but are just tired of all the clearly non-data driven stupidity that goes into that infrastructure in the first place.

I have no problem throwing either of my two small children, with their PFDs into the lake and dragging them home behind the kayak. I’ve been training them for that since day one. That way- they can enjoy life to the fullest and make actual data-driven decisions no matter what life throws at them. Supervised.. or not.

Stop being afraid of outlier events you can’t control, more importantly stop trying to regulate away those fears. Especially when it includes dumping all that risk onto a 17-year old. It rarely ends well.

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