In 1971, I was a part-time ocean guard in Myrtle Beach, with 15 rescues and 10 assists. I worked the beaches part time while stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. I guarded ocean waters from Springmaid to Ocean Lakes. Vernon’s Beach service was the largest employer of guards and he was a tough but fair boss who expected his lifeguards to take their job seriously.
In the morning, you set out umbrellas and chairs and patrolled your area to make yourself visible so the tourist could recognize you. During hot afternoons, you could sit in your stand but still were expected to get out and move every hour. We were trained to be as close to the ocean as possible. During my last year on the beach, I managed all beaches and developing campgrounds from Springmaid Beach to Ocean Lakes.
Guarding Pirateland, Lakewood and Ocean Lakes presented a challenge for our Beach Service. Lifeguards were paid a salary supplemented by rental of umbrellas and chairs. Campers tend to bring their own umbrellas and chairs so the lifeguards had a challenge renting theirs. So we collaborated. The guards set umbrellas and chairs behind the lifeguard stand, and as the tide receded, moved their stand closer to the ocean. Moving closer enhanced our rescue capability and allowed guests to set up their umbrellas and chairs closer to the ocean.
Recently, I’ve observed consistent distances of 50-plus yards between guard stands and the ocean. The guards never move their stands. When recently asked, an ocean guard said their manager told them not to move. That way, guests would have to rent the beach service umbrellas and chairs, a strategic decision just begging for deadly consequences.
Today’s lifeguard spends more time instructing angry guests and residents to take down their umbrellas. During these daily and weekly encounters, lifeguards become distracted from scanning the ocean. In an ocean rescue, every second counts.
Stop putting our lifeguards in a no win position. My suggestion: Instruct lifeguards to move their stands up toward the ocean as the tide recedes. Guests will still rent your umbrellas and chairs and, besides, you should never sacrifice safety for short-term monetary gain. It never works.
Someone drowning because the lifeguard was too far from the ocean or talking with a guest to take down their umbrella is a real, but preventable, possibility.
Do the right thing and everyone will be happy and safe to enjoy our beautiful ocean.
The writer lives in Surfside Beach.