(July 12, 2013) The Ocean City Beach Patrol’s Junior Beach Patrol Academy started another summer of beach safety training Tuesday with around 30 youth taking to the beach, water and stands.
The four-day program is modeled after the training and daily routine of Ocean City’s lifeguards, known as Surf Rescue Technicians, or SRTs.
“They learn how to enjoy the ocean, but they learn how to respect it and enjoy it safely,” said Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs, who has served in Ocean City for almost 30 years and organizes the academy.
Each summer, around 200 youth ages 10-17 join the academy, where they learn basics from how to build a sand pile at the foot of the lifeguard stand in case they need to jump down for a quick rescue to how to communicate with other SRTs using flag semaphore.
Campers pass through three levels based on age and ability. Level One junior SRTs begin with rescue buoys, moving up to using the spool — a long line — for rescue at Level Two. At Level Three, they learn to save lives on the paddleboard. Campers are tested at their levels on the first day to ensure they’re placed appropriately based on equipment and knowledge.
Participants with a real taste for the program move up to the camp’s crew chief level, become assistant instructors or age out of the program at 17 to become lifeguards.
“That’s the goal for some — to become lifeguards,” Kovacs said, although not all junior beach patrollers are aspiring SRTs.
Some parents send their children to boost their knowledge of the ocean and safety, Kovacs said. Plus, the camp is an active, fun week for youth.
“It’s energetic and its upbeat. We want it to be fun for the kids,” said Liz Vander Clute, chief of Beach Patrol Crew Two and a former Junior Beach Patrol Academy member. Like her, around 15 of Ocean City’s almost 200 lifeguards this year were once part of the junior academy.
Shelby Harrison, 14, of Calvert County, attended the camp for her fourth year this week.
“It’s fun. I like being in the ocean,” she said. “I want to be a lifeguard one day, maybe.”
Aside from helping campers learn about beach safety and lifeguarding, the academy also introduces them to professionals from other fields, such as firefighters, paramedics and police officers.
Campers with an interest in the camp “tend to be outgoing (and) athletic,” Kovacs said. “They’re the ones who are going to have careers in law enforcement (or) firefighting.”
And while the academy helps campers explore careers, camp leaders, all trained SRTs, have also stumbled onto a profession during the summer.
“Many of our lifeguards are just out of college and not sure what they want to do,” Kovacs said. “After working with the kids and doing this job for a few years, they wind up enjoying it and some become teachers.”
The camp at Beach Patrol Headquarters at 109 Dorchester Street runs in four-day seasons each week, 8-11:30 a.m., now through Aug. 13. It costs $105 for residents and $125 for non-residents.
Campers earn a certificate of completion at the end of the week and participate in daily team competitions. One-day camps and afternoon camps are available.
To learn more or to register online for the Junior Beach Patrol Academy, visit www.ococean.com/things-to-do/camps/jr-beach-patrol or call Craig Southard at 410-250-0125.