Tasked with keeping our beaches and ocean safe, the Ocean City Beach Patrol is one of the most integral entities in Ocean City, MD. The Beach Patrol is comprised of young men and women who vigorously train under the tutelage of veteran leaders to ensure swimmers and beach goers stay safe at all times. The lifeguards learn about treacherous rip currents, the changing ocean bottom, and how far to let flotation devices go out with different winds and tide conditions. They also have to keep an eye out for swimmers who get too close to the long wooden and, more recently, stone jetties that jut out into the surf to help check beach erosion. It is estimated that in a typical season, the Patrol goes to the rescue of about 2,500 bathers, handles 1,000 lost children, and is called on for first aid about 500 times.
Before any man or women can join the Beach Patrol, he/she must first pass a grueling tryout. To be under initial consideration, applicants must swim a quarter of a mile in the ocean from the jetty at the Inlet to the fishing pier, keeping their strokes through waves and currents, and must be back on shore in ten minutes or less. As soon as swimmers hit the beach, they must then run in the sand back to the starting point. Applicants who survive the initial test (most do not) continue from there with a series of simulated rescues with and without a torpedo buoy, run a 300meter course in soft sand in 65 seconds. Next, there is a test in lifesaving techniques. Candidates must demonstrate the ability to break the grasp of desperate swimmers using several techniques. Patrol members are taught the semaphore flag signals and first aid, and receive CPR training.
Those that pass join the Beach Patrol and accept the mission of keeping the beaches safe. The OCBP is broken up into 17 individual crews, each of which operates as a team to man the 5 or 6 lifeguard stands on its assigned beach, with the crew chief stand located in the center. An assistant crew chief and up to six additional SRTs (Surf Rescue Technicians) work together under direction of the crew chief to cover all stands 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. All guards follow the same training program, so members of any crew can work together to save lives; but Ocean City’s coastal geography creates unique working environments at each beach and each crew takes great pride in keeping its area safe.
For more information on the men and women who keep our beaches and water safe, visit: http://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/emergency-services/beach-patrol/
OCBP Question of the Week
Each week, a member of the OCBP gives us the answer to the question he or she is most asked while on duty. Check back weekly for insider insight from the best lifeguards on the planet.
Our OCBP Question of the Week comes from Assistant Crew Chief Caroline Oakey, who has been with the Beach Patrol for 3 years and is in Crew 5. Her crew covers the beach from 18th street – 25th Street.
A: The majority of us who work for the OCBP are students or educators and our life away from the beach has been calling us back. As schools have started again, the beach patrol’s numbers start shrinking. The OCBP strives to maintain the maximum number of guard stands on the beach at this time because vacationers continue to choose Ocean City as a vacation spot 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.
We have been able to obtain our goal of keeping the maximum number of guard stands on the beach for the maximum number of days through strategic scheduling. All 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 lifeguards 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. Many of the guards that have left for school will work part time. They return to help out on both weekdays and weekends, even scheduling classes to allow availability during several days each week. It’s a tough time of the year because 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.
As the location and distance between stands changes (sometimes on a daily basis and the distance may increase as much as 150 yards between stands), we will continue to provide coverage of all 10 miles of Ocean City beaches until Sunday, September 27th. 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.
Remember to keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard is in the stand and walk the extra distance to swim in front of a lifeguard.
This week’s OCBP Question of the Week comes from Crew Chief A.J. Smith, who has been a member of the OCBP for 9 years. As Chief of Crew 14, Smith is the leader of the guards who sit the stands in the northern Condo area from Golden Sands condominium to the Carousel Hotel.
Q: Lifeguards make everybody get out of the ocean before they leave, but people go back in. Why is that?
A: The single, strongest message that we try to impress on people is that they should stay out of the ocean when lifeguards are not on duty. Lifeguards clear the water at 5:25.p.m.each evening. By pulling everyone out of the ocean before we leave the beach, we know that those who enter the water during unguarded hours are taking that risk knowingly. The risk is great, although many of the 2,000 – 4,000 people who we rescue during guarding hours tell us that they never intended to go out that “far”, they do not make the connection to the fact that rip currents will actually pull a person from waist deep water to water that is over their head quickly and without warning. These same currents that are the cause of 95% of all rescues we make during the day are also present before and after we are on our stands. The only difference is that when a person finds themselves in trouble before 10:00 AM or after 5:30 PM. there is no one to save their life and unfortunately it all too often has ended in tragedy. We continue our efforts to educate the public, warning them of the dangers of swimming on unguarded beaches, and that we make sure people leave the ocean before we pull our lifeguard stands back and cross over the dune for the night. Hence our slogan, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand.” Heeding this simple warning could save a life, yours!
This week’s OCBP Question of the Week answer comes from Crew Chief Travis Wagner, who has been a member of the OCBP for 11 years, with the last 8 as Crew Chief. He sits in Crew 15 at 120th St
Q: Why does the beach have a steep drop off? Will it stay this way?
A: Beach Patrons have been noticing a dramatic change in the beach this week. There have been steep drop-offs as high as four or five feet in locations. You may have had to climb down a pronounced ledge at the water’s edge just to get to the ocean. This is a natural occurrence and is a result of a combination of high tides, prevailing north-south currents and heavy wave action spurred by the recent full moon, which was the second full moon in July (blue moon). The strong current running south to north has caused this dramatic sculpting of the beach. The OCBP tip is to not only check in with the lifeguard to learn about current beach conditions but be extra careful about digging in the sand. The creation of the ledge is inviting for beach patrons to dig tunnels and make large holes. We continue to remind beach patrons about the dangers of digging holes in the sand that can collapse and have serious and even deadly consequences. No tunneling and holes should only be knee deep. Stay safe and enjoy your day at the beach.
This week’s question is answered by SRT Josh Wilder, who has been with the Beach Patrol Crew 12 for 3 years.
Q: “How many lifeguards are on the beach patrol?”
A: At the busiest part of our season we will have up to 92 stands covering all 10 miles of Ocean City.