Ocean City Today

OC Beach Patrol continues to guard with less personnel

On Guard
By Kristin Joson | Aug 31, 2017

(Sept. 1, 2017) We say this every year, “Where did the summer go?” and then we say, “I really do believe this has been one of the fastest summers ever!”

It has been another very busy summer for the surf rescue technicians working for the patrol. We enjoyed working out of our beautiful new OCBP headquarters for the second summer season.

The “week” of August, as we call it, has come and is now gone. Everyone is trying to take in all that we can of what is left of the summertime and make it last as long as possible. For the majority of us who are students or educators, our life away from the beach is calling us back.

OCBP has a large number of SRTs in college and many others on the patrol are educators at various levels in school systems throughout Maryland, the U.S. and even Canada. Thanks to Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to have Maryland Public Schools start students after Labor Day we have been able to retain our teachers for an additional one or two weeks longer than previous seasons. These teachers are some of our most experienced SRT’s and mostly in supervisory rolls on the beach.

It is a lifestyle that allows us to have our summers free to pursue our work with the beach patrol. The downside of this availability is that many colleges and school systems start before Labor Day weekend. Consequently, as schools have started again, the beach patrol’s numbers start shrinking.

As the beach patrol strives to maintain the maximum number of guard stands on the beach, vacationers continue to choose Ocean City as a vacation destination. This situation becomes the greatest challenge for the patrol as we try to provide the same level of protection for each visitor as when we are at 100 percent staffing. To complicate matters, this is also the time of year that Ocean City experiences an increase in the volume and size of waves due to tropical activity in the Atlantic. August and September are traditionally our large surf months, producing larger waves, rip currents and shorebreak.

As we move later into September, fewer guards are left to handle bigger rips and waves. This is when the training and skills they have been honing all summer will be put to use keeping all of our beach patrons safe during these busy final weeks of the season.

Through the experience and expertise of Lt. Mike Stone (33 years with the patrol and a local school counselor) and his scheduling skills, we have been able to realize our goal of keeping the maximum number of guard stands on the beach for the maximum number of days. As a result, we were able to keep all 92 stands on the beach one week later this season than in most recent years.

As the season continues, surf rescue technicians will have a more challenging situation with the greater distance between stands and a larger area of responsibility. When we remove stands from the beach, the remaining stands are spread out equally. Many of these personnel will choose to work without a day off until the end of the season so that we can provide additional coverage and the added safety to swimmers of more guards on duty.

A large number of SRTs, who have left for other obligations away from the beach, will return on a part-time basis. They return to help out on both weekdays and weekends, even scheduling classes to allow availability during several days each week. Imagine if one guard gets sick and we don’t have someone to cover their stand, that is one less stand on the beach which again makes the distance between stands even further apart.

OCBP is committed to provide SRTs along the entire 10 miles of beach for all visitors and residents, so rather than have unguarded areas, the number of available lifeguard towers is equally distributed along the beach front. As this redistribution occurs the location and distance between stands changes (sometimes on a daily basis and the distance may increase to as much as 800 yards (half mile) between stands compared to the average 190 yards at maximum mid-season coverage).

We will continue to provide coverage of all 10 miles of Ocean City beach until Sunday, Sept. 24.  Thanks to the support of the mayor and city council we will continue to provide this level of coverage whereas nearby beaches have reduced their coverage throughout the season and will be closing down their entire operation earlier than in past seasons due to funding and personnel issues.

Although Ocean City’s coverage will be done with fewer personnel and less lifeguard towers, we will supplement this coverage by increasing the number of mobile rescue units patrolling the beach.  These mobile units are first-aid and AED equipped with one SRT (rider) acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other SRT (driver) maintains radio communication and backup during an emergency. Both are qualified as surf rescue technicians, medical first responders and are quad (ATV) certified. SRTs will be on duty daily between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

To make sure we end our season and yours safely, vacationers and locals can help the guards and themselves by making the extra effort to swim close to a lifeguard. We strongly encourage all beach patrons to restrict any beach or water-related activities to times when beach patrol personnel are on duty, never swim alone, always stay within the limits of their ability and never rely on a flotation device.

Captain’s Note: Thanks to the professionalism and commitment of our surf rescue technicians who are willing to return for several years we have over one-third of our 200 employees with five or more year’s experience with Ocean City.

What makes this statistic even more amazing is that 85 percent of our employees must relocate to Ocean City each season from their full-time residences and obtain seasonal housing. If you or someone you know would like to rent seasonally to beach patrol employees, please contact our office at 410-289-7556.

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