As the economy sours, finding a summer job is becoming increasingly difficult. It's especially tough for would-be lifeguards working on public beaches, where competition is steep.
The Clearwater Beach Patrol employs nine lifeguards year-round and another 10 or 15 part-timers every summer.
"There's such a demand to work here, for the last five years, we've had literally probably hundreds of applications," Clearwater Beach safety supervisor Joe Lain said.
The seasonal applications come in throughout the year, mostly from high school- and college-aged kids. Once they land one of the coveted positions, they usually stay four to five years.
While Clearwater Beach has the most sought after positions, Pinellas County is the largest seasonal employer, staffing Fort De Soto, Sand Key and Fred Howard Park.
"With the job market getting a little tighter, I'm having more college grads come back and work for us," said Katherine Cleary, who oversees Pinellas County's 25 seasonal lifeguard positions.
College kids aren't the only ones applying, either. Cleary also hires firefighters and schoolteachers now and then.
This year's applicant pool was especially large. Cleary estimated that 60 to 70 people applied for the 25 positions and about half of them passed the physical test that the county requires to become a lifeguard.
While the competition is often fierce, it's not impossible to land this summer dream job. Lesser known posts, like the three seasonal positions at Caladesi Island State Park, often struggle to find applicants, park manager Peter Krudler said.
Elsewhere in the nation
Lifeguarding is no longer a summer pastime for bored teens. Pay and benefits have grown as more cities merge their lifeguards into the fire department. Los Angeles County employs 180 full-time and 760 part-time lifeguards, with top pay pushing six figures.
The lifeguards who watch over 31 miles of sandy beaches that ring Santa Monica Bay are among the nation's best paid and most famous. They inspired Baywatch, the TV show that exported Southern California beach life to an estimated 1-billion viewers worldwide.
Most of the Southern California recruits consider this the best summer job in America. They're athletes who have grown up logging long hours in pools and the ocean. Of 200 who tried out last fall, only about 50 pass rookie school and get jobs.
Information from the Wall Street Journal was used in this report.