Strategies for the Implementation of a Lifeguard Program to Mitigate Drowning Rates at Puerto Rican Beaches

2015 Sea GrantSponsoring organization: Puerto Rico Sea Grant

Team members: Erica D. Bowden (Actuarial Mathematics ’17), Emily P. Ferreira (Biomedical Engineering ’17), Glen F. Mould (Electrical and Computer Engineering ’17), Brianna J. Parent (Biomedical Engineering ’17)

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Executive Summary: Puerto Rico is home to beautiful beaches and resorts. It is a dream vacation for many tourists and it is not an uncommon sight to see the tourists and residents relaxing on the sandy beaches and venturing into the ocean. However, many of these beachgoers do not realize they are putting themselves at risk as soon as they step into the water. There is one open-water drowning every twelve days in Puerto Rico (Sea Grant College Program, 2015). These drownings are associated with the rough surf, rip currents, and jagged rocks that are very prominent on many of Puerto Rico’s beaches.

The Puerto Rico Sea Grant created an Aquatic Safety Program to promote the advancement of the island through prevention, education, and conservation of coastal areas. A number of studies and methods have been tested to reduce the incidents and there have yet to be any to prevail; however, one option has yet to be tested. Sea Grant is working on implementing a lifeguard program on the high-risk beaches throughout the island. This program aims to increase water safety as well as to increase education on water conditions.


The goal of our project was to increase water safety and reduce the drowning rate on the island of Puerto Rico by finding a source of funding for a lifeguard program that will protect and educate the beachgoers. Due to the financial crisis in Puerto Rico, the government is unable to financially support this program. Ruperto Chaparro, the director of Puerto Rico Sea Grant, expressed the organization’s interest in using tourists to bring in the needed revenue. A small fee on hotel guests could be used to fund this lifeguard program both initially and annually. Upon arriving in San Juan, our group looked to retrieve specific knowledge on possible funding structures and the social implications this program will have on the Puerto Rican community, especially in the Condado neighborhood. Using surveys and interviews, we gathered data from travelers, hotel management, lifeguards, and government organizations. Our objectives were to:

  • Determine whether the support of the government, companies, and community of Puerto Rico would help to advance this program.
  • Evaluate the status of existing lifeguard programs in Puerto Rico to educate ourselves on how to establish a successful program,
  • Assess the public’s knowledge on water conditions, such as rip currents, high surf, and their overall swimming capability to strengthen our argument on the necessity of our project, and
  • Analyze funding structures to determine the most effective way of incorporating a beach safety fee.

After compiling the data from our surveys and interviews, we analyzed the funding options to form our recommendations.

Results and Analysis

Through thorough evaluation of our surveys and interviews, the support of the government, companies, and community of Puerto Rico to advance this program were determined. Results showed that 72.3% of the respondents selected that lifeguards are extremely important. Given that most of these beaches are not watched over by certified lifeguards, 59.4% of these respondents noted that there were no lifeguards and that there should be more on duty, while 17.8% were unsure if there were lifeguards present. From Condado Beach, about 86% of these respondents listed lifeguards as extremely important. We expected that residents would be indifferent towards the amount of lifeguards on the beach because this is what they are accustomed to. We were surprised that both parties feel strongly that there should be lifeguards at these beaches, especially at Condado Beach. The support of both tourists and residents allows us to further our project’s production.

As we presented our project to government organizations, they were able to guide us to where we could further take our project or as to which other organizations would be beneficial to contact. We believed that the Tourism Company held a lot of authority and that with their support, we would be able to enforce the lifeguard program. However, they could not provide any financial support but would try their best through other resources to help our efforts. Given that hotels are invested in their guests’ safety, we thought that the International Hospitality Enterprise (iHE) would be welcoming to our proposal. The iHE agreed to partner with our group and assess our different proposals if we get the credibility. Since the PRHTA holds the collective say for all the Puerto Rican hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts, we consulted with them (E. Diaz, personal communication, November 24, 2015). We found out that with their support we would be able to suggest our proposal to the hotels. We identified that having these organizations as well as other government organizations in agreeance would allow us to recommend plausible and successful solutions.
In order to understand the complexities behind establishing a successful lifeguard program, our team conducted a number of interviews with lifeguards from Seven Seas, Luquillo, and Escambrón Beaches. The most significant difference we encountered between these three beaches is the level of respect the beachgoers show the lifeguards. Luquillo lifeguards felt that 90% of the beachgoers adhere to the rules of the beach and respect the lifeguards. At Escambrón Beach, the lifeguards felt the exact opposite and believe the lack of respect from the beachgoers contributes towards the numerous minor accidents on the beach. Seven Seas and Luquillo were well kept, up to date, and had little to no problems with public adherence to the beach rules. We theorized that a neglected beach, minimal equipment, and negative working conditions of the lifeguards leads to the disrespect from the beachgoers. These survey and interview results provided the Puerto Rico Sea Grant with the necessary data to continue with the implementation of this lifeguarding program.

On the subject of aquatic ability and knowledge, our results showed that the overall adequacy of a beachgoer’s swimming ability and beach safety education is below the needed level in order to remain safe on these dangerous San Juan beaches. We were surprised that the visitors and residents were not more prepared for the coastal terrain of the island. With uneducated and unprotected beachgoers, the amount of drownings will only increase. It is imperative that Puerto Rico focuses on preventive measures such as water education and placing lifeguards on dangerous beaches such as Condado Beach.

In the last unit of survey questions, respondents were asked to consider how much they would be willing to pay per night on a hotel fee and which fund collection means they would be most likely to utilize. Close to 60% of respondents selected a hotel fee as their preferred collection method. With 99% confidence, beachgoers are willing to pay between $3.31 and $4.15 per night. The mean was $3.73 while both the median and mode of the responses were that the individual would be willing to pay $5 or more. When we were creating the surveying question, we thought that the $4 or $5+ fee would not be a favorable choice, but it ended up being the most frequently selected response. We found this to be very affirmative for the progression of placing lifeguards on this beach because we would have more than enough funds if we were to charge a smaller amount.

The majority of our research questions focused on each organization’s personal feedback on a hotel fee and any additional comments or ideas on funding. Most of the organizations wanted us to shy away from the hotel fee even though beachgoers were willing to pay more than what we would need to fund such a program. However, we received some valuable information and alternative ideas for funding. Ernesto Diaz from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources advised us to steer clear of the taxation and instead, to consider adding a voluntary contribution to the hotel agreement form. Roberto Varela from the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association suggested looking into the chance games funds, which refers to the taxes collected from casinos, and amending the corresponding laws to fund the lifeguard program. We also discovered that in the short term, a plausible funding source would be from the hotel’s general revenue. These option gave us alternative methods to gain funds if the hotel fee is later deemed impossible.


  • Residents, tourists, hotels, and organizations are in support of this lifeguard program. Everyone identifies that these beaches are dangerous and in need of lifeguards.
  • In order to have a successful program, lifeguards need to be respected by the beachgoers and the government. They should be given the proper equipment, uniforms, trainings, and certifications to properly do their job.
  • Beachgoers’ swimming ability and beach safety education is below the needed level in order to remain safe on these dangerous beaches. This emphasizes the need for lifeguards to be placed on Condado Beach.
  • Beachgoers are willing to pay a hotel fee that would completely cover the lifeguard program. Hotels and organizations are against this idea, but suggested other options such as unused government collected money, a voluntary fee, or private funds.


  • We recommend that hotels implement a donation option on their guests’ hotel charge to supplement the funds they provide to the lifeguard program.
  • We recommend the use of an aquatic safety handout to educate the public on Puerto Rican water conditions.
  • We recommend that the chance games funds going to the Department of Treasury are looked into more thoroughly for a possible reallocation.
  • We recommend that our survey data is presented to the hotels and to government officials to persuade them to enforce a hotel fee to fund the lifeguard program.
  • We recommend that the lifeguard program’s budget covers the entire cost of the lifeguards’ and beach’s equipment.
  • We recommend another project to create an educational airline video to inform passengers on coastal attractions and hazards, along with donation opportunities.