September 14, 2023
9:00 AM

Our water safety bills were passed today!


On this very special day, the New York City Council passed a comprehensive package of legislation to improve water safety throughout New York City. These bills will require the City to survey locations to site more public pools, ensure second-graders have access to free swimming lessons, and implement essential reporting measures concerning pool and beach staffing and training, including information on the seasonal recruitment of lifeguards. 

Drowning is the number one cause of death among children ages one to four across the nation. Data from the CDC highlights the pronounced vulnerability of children of color, who face elevated drowning risks. Within New York City, 18 Council Districts lack access to a public pool, exacerbating this issue. Moreover, outside of Manhattan, more than three-quarters of the city’s residents live beyond a 15-minute walk from the nearest public pool. For example, only 12% of Queens residents are in close proximity to these vital facilities.

The sponsors and advocates

“Every New Yorker should have the opportunity to swim – not only to enjoy the City’s waters, but to protect themselves from danger,” said NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers. “I am proud to sponsor Introduction 962, and I will continue to fight for equitable access to the pools and programming that empower members of our community to swim safely.” 

“Ensuring that New Yorkers are kept safe when enjoying our City’s pools and beaches is integral,” said NYC Council Parks Committee Chair Shekar Krishnan. “I am proud to celebrate the passage of my bill, Introduction 1017, which will ensure that there is greater transparency around lifeguard staffing levels at pools and beaches across our City. As our summers continue to get hotter, it is vital that New Yorkers have safe places to cool off and enjoy recreational activity.”

“Today, New York City takes a monumental step towards ensuring every child can swim. For the safety of our children and the well-being of our communities, we must ensure that every New Yorker has the opportunity to learn how to swim. I am proud to sponsor my bill for no-cost swimming lessons for second-graders because learning to swim should be as common as learning to read or learning how to ride a bike. These legislative initiatives are a vital step towards a more equitable city,” said City Council Member Julie Menin.

“Swimming lessons don’t just teach us to swim – they help people stay safe in the water, ensure people understand when it’s safe to enter the water in the first place, and provide us with recreation, relief from heat, and joy together with our neighbors. That’s why I’ve been fighting since my time in the Council for increased access to swimming lessons and pool access for New Yorkers,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “I’m proud to collaborate with Council Member Menin on Intro 760-A, and grateful for Speaker Adams and the Council’s leadership in fighting for year-round public pool access and expansion of free swimming program.”

“I am so grateful to CMs Krishnan, Brooks-Powers and Memin and teams for their work and advocacy to create this suite of legislation,” said Shawn Slevin of Swim Strong Foundation. “Now we will be able to start the work needed to create an aquatics culture in our maritime city.  Drowning is pervasive, yet largely preventable. Let’s GO!”

“+ POOL applauds the New York City Council for its attention to these issues. Water has the power to heal, build community, and bring joy.  We see it everyday in the faces of the children and families we teach to swim. It’s time we embrace that NYC is a city of water and that we not only provide safe public access to water, but arm every New Yorker with the skills to be safe in and on the water that surrounds us,” said Kara Meyer, Managing Director, + POOL.

“At the Y, we believe that every New Yorker should have the opportunity to learn to swim. As a city surrounded by water, it is particularly critical that adults and children have access to water safety and swim classes, and this package of bills will go a long way in helping to achieve that. We want to sincerely thank the entire NYC Council, with special thanks to Speaker Adams and Council Members Krishnan, Brooks-Powers, and Menin for their leadership, and we look forward to partnering with them to provide increased access to water instruction,” said Sharon Greenberger, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York.

Why is this important?

A city survey, conducted in 2017, unveiled troubling statistics: a quarter of students admitted that they do not know how to swim. The survey also exposed glaring disparities among demographics, with nearly one in three Black students unable to swim, compared to just one in 10 white students.

For low-income New Yorkers, who often reside in neighborhoods with limited access to air conditioning, public pools serve as a vital resource during sweltering summers. However, in recent summers, the City has grappled with a lifeguard shortage, impacting the availability of swimming lessons for children.

The CDC reports that drowning ranks as the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children aged 5–14, following motor vehicle crashes. Council Member Menin’s proposed bill, which advocates for free swimming lessons for second-grade children, takes significant steps to address this heightened risk within this age group.


About the Legislation

Introduction 962 (Brooks-Powers) requires the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to conduct a survey of sites owned by the City to identify suitable locations where additional public swimming pools could be built, with a focus on Environmental Justice Communities, and determine whether sites can accommodate more than one pool or other athletic equipment. It would also require that DPR consult with the Department of Education (DOE) on creating a plan to open pools under DOE jurisdiction for use by the public.

Introduction 1017 (Krishnan) requires the Department of Parks and Recreation to submit an annual report to the Mayor and Council on staffing levels and training for the City’s pool and beach programs, including information on the seasonal recruitment of lifeguards, the number of emergencies that occurred at each beach and pool, and the current number of pools that are closed for public use due to maintenance or other issue.

Introduction 760 (Menin) requires the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Education provide free swim lessons to second grade students in New York City’s public schools.

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