Queens BP Donovan Richards advocates for enhanced swim safety measures following tragic drownings in Far Rockaway

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a press conference Tuesday in Far Rockaway calling for better water safety measures after recent drownings.
Photo by Athena Dawson

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a press conference in Far Rockaway Tuesday to call for new swim safety measures following the recent drownings of two teenagers.

Richards was joined by local community board leaders and swim safety advocates at Beach 94th Street Boardwalk to discuss potential water safety measures, such as extending lifeguard hours and investing in city pools. 

He started the event off with a moment of silence for two teenagers—Elyjha Chandler, 16, and Christian Perkins, 17—who went missing on June 21 in the waters off Jacob Riss Park. The bodies of the two boys were found over the weekend.

“We’re here today because we refuse to accept that this is just going to be a normal part of our summer out here in Rockaway and across the city,” Richards said.

Richards called on the NYC Parks Department to extend lifeguard hours to dusk, specifically during heatwaves. He stated that many residents stay on the beach past 6 p.m. when the working hours of beach lifeguards end. Richards also pushed for a concerted effort among city agencies such as the NYPD and NYC Parks to deter people from staying at beaches beyond 6 p.m. 

Additionally, Richards said that the summer beach season should be extended, citing factors such as climate change that keeps the city hot later into the fall. He called on the lifeguard union DC37 to meet with NYC Parks to continue addressing the ongoing lifeguard shortage.

Queens Borough President held a press conference in Far Rockaway Tuesday to advocate for better water safety measures following recent drowning incidents. Courtesy of the office of QBP Richards

Richards also touched on the need for the city to invest in existing community pools and build more in areas that lack them.  He shared that he had been working to open a state-of-the-art Olympic-sized pool in St. Albans for years, well before Mayor Eric Adams took office.

As for the Rockaway peninsula, Richards said that an agreement was reached with the New York City Parks Dept. and developers of Arverne East to build a large pool. He is currently helping to get state funding for that project.  

“The ocean is not a pool, so we need to really ensure that our young people, even if lifeguard hours aren’t extended, have opportunities to swim 365 days a year and in a safe and more controlled environment. And that’s what we’ll be working towards here,” he said. 

Richards also added that NYC public schools with pools should require students to learn to swim as part of their curriculum. He also referenced the importance of Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato’s (D-23) water safety bill, which, if passed, would create a water safety curriculum for grades K-12 throughout the state.

Following the borough president’s remarks, Shawn Slevin, founder of the Swim Strong Foundation, gave tips on how parents and children can stay safe during family beach days.

Slevin shared that speaking to lifeguards on duty can be beneficial in getting an idea of the temperature, currents, and any possible hazards in the water. Additionally, Slevin emphasized the importance of parents keeping small children at arm’s length at all times when swimming. 

“Anything can and will happen in a minute, and it only takes two minutes and two inches of water for drowning,” Slevin said, noting that drowning rates have gone up in recent years. “So, we, as individuals, need to be much more mindful and knowledgeable about situations.” 

Slevin also urged DOE educators to contact her organization, which provides water safety lessons for students of all ages.

Dolores Orr, chair of CB14, advocates for mandatory water safety lessons in NYC schools. Courtesy of the office of QBP Richards

Community Board 14 (CB14) leaders also gave brief remarks stating that they had been pushing for mandatory water safety lessons for over two decades. 

Dolores Orr, chair of Community Board 14, said that children need to understand how dangerous the ocean is—beyond the risks associated with a pool. “What would it take to have an assembly in every school for every child to understand how wonderful the water is, but how dangerous it is,” said Orr, a lifelong Far Rockaway resident.

Felicia Johnson, district manager for CB14, shared that Slevin will be hosting a water safety event at 10 a.m. on July 13 at the Arverne East Nature Preserve’s welcome center. “People from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, everyone needs to understand water safety,” Johnson said.

Johnson also advocated for a P.A. system that could be attached to poles to broadcast news of bad weather or poor swimming conditions across the boardwalks. “I know we just passed our budget, and we thank the City Council and mayor for what they did, but we need to do more.” 

Felicia Johnson advocating for better ways to communicate hazardous water conditions at New York City beaches. Courtesy of the office of QBP Richards