Ocean City Today
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Drinking alcohol on beach in OC dangerous and illegal

On Guard
By Kristin Joson | Jul 20, 2017

(July 21, 2017) The beach may seem like a great place to relax and enjoy alcoholic beverages, however, it is both illegal and unsafe to do so.

Compounded by the heat, the dehydrating and disorienting effects of alcohol and impaired judgment, you can understand why Ocean City does not allow alcohol on the beach. Alcohol depletes your body of the vital fluids it needs to keep you up and running throughout the day, and it can also give swimmers a false sense of confidence when it comes to ocean swimming.

Almost every guard has a story about rescuing a swimmer who drank too much alcohol. A person who has a healthy understanding of the ocean and their own swimming ability might not usually head out very far, but after a few drinks they might find themselves feeling braver. They take risks they usually would not and can end up hurting themselves in any number of ways, from riding a wave into the shallow water and injuring themselves or swimming out farther than they should.

Years ago a young man who was in town celebrating his high school graduation had one too many drinks and took a headfirst dive into two inches of water. He is now paralyzed from the neck down.

More recently, a young adult (under the age of 21) consumed a fifth of rum (as reported by his friends) and went swimming against his friends’ advice who were also poor/non-swimmers and his body was recovered an hour later. Another easily avoidable tragedy.

Over time it has become clear that many diving-related accidents and most of the heat-related illness have a direct correlation to alcohol consumption. And even more interesting, when it comes to heat emergencies, the alcohol consumption may have been over 12 hours before the incident.

We know that from a safety perspective “alcohol and water don’t mix.” Many of our more serious incidents over the years have involved intoxicated beach patrons that do things after drinking that they would never do if sober. The sad fact is, that many lives have been altered or affected in a permanent way by alcohol-related incidents or injuries both in the water and on the streets, highways and crosswalks of Ocean City.

Most of our pedestrian accidents, several of which are fatal each year, involve alcohol for either the driver or the pedestrian who stepped into the path of the oncoming vehicle. Not only is the life of the victim of a paralyzing injury or accident affected, but so are the lives of the family members who are often left caring for that individual following the injury.

Another issue with intoxicated “swimmers” is that reaction time and physical ability are diminished and often lead to the person finding themselves in trouble in the water and in need of help. If this occurs between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. they will be lucky enough to be rescued by a surf rescue technician, although following the rescue these individuals do not do very well and are often transported to a medical facility for further evaluation (we had several the past few summers).

Although we do a very good job of keeping these people safe while we are on duty regardless of how reckless they are, we unfortunately respond to several off-duty “swimmer in distress” calls each season, some of which are fatal and almost all are alcohol related.

If you’re going to drink, don’t swim and take a bus or cab to get home safe.

In addition to Maryland’s drinking laws, you might not be aware that Ocean City has its own laws and ordinances. Those that relate to alcohol are:

– Public consumption of alcohol has been reclassified (2012) as a criminal offense and may lead to your arrest.

– Consuming alcohol in public by anyone is prohibited

– Carrying an open container of alcohol is a violation. This includes the beach areas, sidewalks and the Boardwalk.

– Using false identification is a criminal offense that can result in a fine and/or loss of license. Police officers in plain clothes help enforce this law.

– If your beverage happens to be in a glass container you are also guilty of violating an additional ordinance.

You might be interested to know that the law is specific about the consumption of alcohol and has nothing to do with the container it is in (except that glass is also prohibited) although many people wrongly believe that pouring it in a cup makes it acceptable, which is not true.

Some beach patrons know the law, but choose to disobey and take their alcohol to the beach and then attempt to hide the behavior from the beach patrol. This makes the job of the surf rescue technician (lifeguard) on duty who is responsible to monitor and enforce all activities on the beach as well as in the water much more challenging.

To some it appears as a game, to see if they can conceal their illegal activity from the beach patrol while the SRT attempts to perform their job and enforce all of Ocean City laws and ordinances. The result is that your SRT has to divide their responsibilities between protecting people in the water and pleading with “adults” to follow the rules. I have to say though, I often find it ironic that 30- or 40-year-old beach patron will try to hide beer from an 18-year-old lifeguard.

The beach patrol and your SRT work very hard to enforce the laws and ordinances of the Town of Ocean City. But we need your help. Please do your part and obey the laws and listen to the SRT and keep the alcohol off the beach. Violation of these laws is a criminal offense and may lead to arrest and will absolutely require another trip to Ocean City, but this time it will be for a court date.

We hope you will have a wonderful time on your vacation in Ocean City, but we also want you to remember to drink when and where it is safe and legal to do so. And always remember, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!”

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