Rockaway Beach opens swimming season after NYC strikes surprise lifeguard deal

rockaway beach
Mayor Eric Adams announces on Friday that a deal has been reached with the lifeguard union which will help with staffing shortages this summer.
Courtesy of Mayor’s Press Office

Rockaway Beach welcomed back tens of thousands of New Yorkers on Saturday as the city reopened 14 miles of public beaches, one day after Mayor Eric Adams announced a surprise deal between NYC Parks and DC37, the union representing lifeguards, so more beaches could open during the Memorial Day weekend.

During a hastily scheduled press conference at City Hall on Friday, the Mayor and NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said an arbitration panel issued an award in the city’s ongoing negotiations with the DC37 bargaining unit that will “functionally pave the way” for the city to be able to hire more lifeguards, allow more swimming capacity at beaches and pools, and improve operations of the city lifeguard program.

Mayor Eric Adams announces on Friday that a deal has been reached with the lifeguard union which will help with staffing shortages this summer. Courtesy of Mayor’s Press Office

“Today’s a big win for public safety at our pools and beaches means we’ll be able to hire more lifeguards for this summer and get even more in the pipeline for summers to come,” Adams said. “All our lifeguards will still be trained in CPR, first aid, and rescue skills, and we’ll be able to have our strongest swimmers focused on our beaches, where conditions are rougher.” Like the beaches along the Rockaway peninsula where rip tides can be particularly dangerous, posing a threat over the last several years due to chronic lifeguard shortages.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been an enormous challenge throughout the country, we know, to hire lifeguards and New York City has been no exception,” Donoghue said. “At Parks, we have been working hard to rebuild our lifeguard ranks and have implemented new policies to bring as many lifeguards as we possibly can.”

Council Member Joann Ariola welcomes the city back to the Rockaways for the start of the swimming season and applauds the return of special services to the peninsula by NYC Ferry. Courtesy of NYC Parks

Fully staffed beaches are crucial to the economy in the Rockaways, but after multiple fatal drownings in recent years, Council Member Joann Ariola has reservations about the lifeguard deal.

“We absolutely should not be slashing standards in such an important area,” Ariola told QNS on Saturday. “Our lifeguards need to be supremely qualified to ensure that, if a crisis happens, they are in the best condition possible to save a life. The city should be devoting more resources towards swimming education, so that young New Yorkers will have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to make them excellent lifeguards. Cutting standards like this is dangerous, and I can’t see anything good coming from it. It is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who grew up at the Ocean Villages apartments further east on the peninsula in Arverne, was pleased an agreement was reached a day before the start of the swimming season.

“Today’s announcement is good news for all those who rely on our city’s beaches and pools to keep cool in the summer,” Richards said. “This will help address our city’s severe lifeguard shortage and make our pools and beaches safer for all who use them. I look forward to seeing more and more lifeguards on duty in Queens and throughout the city in the very near future.”

Just days earlier, Donoghue and Richards joined Rockaway elected officials and community leaders at the Beach 94th amphitheater and warned that lifeguard shortages could still pose staffing problems and that sections could be closed off on a day-to-day basis.

“Lifeguards will be on duty daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are here for your protection, so be sure to follow their directions,” Donoghue said. “Only go in the water when there is a lifeguard on duty and swimming is prohibited where lifeguards are not present or in closed sections of the beach.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards checks out the beachfront from the boardwalk at Beach 94th Street. Courtesy of BP’s office

Richards said beachgoers should never swim on sections where red flags warn that lifeguards are not on duty. Then he went up to the boardwalk to check out the beachfront.

“It’s not summer in Queens until Rockaway Beach is open for the season,” Richards said. “I encourage everyone to enjoy the wonderful sand and surf available here in this beautiful oasis that you can only find right here in Queens.”

Council Member Joann Ariola agreed. “There really isn’t any place in the world like Rockaway,” Ariola said. “Whether you travel by train, by bus, by ferry, by car, you experience the most beautiful beaches and great restaurants here. This is what our peninsula has to offer, and we want to share that not just with the city but the world.”

Ariola was also pleased that NYC Ferry is bringing back the popular Rockaway Rocket service as well as the Rockaway Reserve Tickets beginning Memorial Day weekend.

“The ferry is an amazing way to bring people from all across the city to the Rockaways, where they can enjoy not only our beautiful beaches but also the many great shops and restaurants that the peninsula has to offer,” she said. “And, with parking at a premium and enforcement promising to be stricter than ever this summer, the ferry offers a great alternative to a car for those looking to spend a day at the beach – no more driving around forever looking for parking. Just hop on the ferry, relax, and enjoy the trip.”

Rockaway Beach is ready for the return of crowds as swimming season opens during Memorial Day weekend. Courtesy NYC Parks