On Guard

(Sept. 14, 2018) I don’t think anyone will argue that the fall is a great time to be in Ocean City.

Many people look forward to the fantastic beach weather, surfing and fishing. People even enjoy weathering out a tropical storm every now and again, although the recent tropical activity and hurricanes are nothing to take lightly.

With this change in season I often encounter people that think they can start taking their dogs on the beach. Some are even surprised that we still have lifeguards on duty.

You might be interested to know that many beach visitors are under the impression that the beach patrol and all of the beach rules end after Labor Day.

The reality is, for the past 46 years (Capt. Butch Arbin’s years with the patrol) and possibly much longer, the OCBP has never gone off duty following Labor Day. The earliest the beach patrol has gone off duty for the season has been the Sunday of Sunfest weekend (usually the third weekend following Labor Day).

This year, the patrol will end the regular guarding of the beach on Sunday, Sept. 23.

During the period following Labor Day, as Ocean City Beach Patrol personnel return to other obligations we are in a reduced coverage scheme, and the number of surf rescue technicians (lifeguards) available to staff the stands along the 10 miles of beach decreases.

This results in a reduction in the total number of stands from 91 (less than 200 yards apart) in July to 20 stands (1/2 mile apart) following Labor Day.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol is committed to provide surf rescue technicians along the entire beach for all visitors and residents so rather than have unguarded areas the number of available lifeguard towers are equally distributed along the beach front.

As this redistribution occurs the location and distance between stands changes (sometimes on a daily basis).

This reduction in personnel is an annual occurrence but is complicated by the start of college classes before Labor Day and the return of our education professionals to school systems throughout the United States.

However, thanks to Gov. Hogan all Maryland public schools started after Labor Day for students beginning last year. Although it was not one of the objectives in Gov. Hogan’s plan for Maryland School systems, his decision made the beach in Ocean City safer, because, a majority of our leadership and most experienced surf rescue technicians are Maryland educators who began professional activities as much as three weeks before Labor Day.

We were able to continue guarding your families later into August with more stands than in any previous season.

Currently we have additional returning surf rescue technicians to allow us to increase the total number of stands (and decrease the distance between stands) on weekends. Our main message this time of the year is to please swim in front of a lifeguard. This short walk is worth the lives of you and your family.

Because of the dedication and commitment of our surf rescue technicians, we will continue to provide daily coverage between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. for all 10 miles of the Ocean City beach until Sunday, Sept. 23.

Although this coverage will be done with fewer personnel and less lifeguard towers (than during the summer), we will supplement this coverage by increasing the number of Mobil 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. Please walk to the nearest guard tower before going in the water.

As far as the rules go (Town of Ocean City ordinances) most remain in effect until Sept. 30.

The specific ordnance regarding dogs, states that dogs are not permitted on the beach or Boardwalk from May 1 to Sept. 30. The Ocean City Beach Patrol strictly enforces the “No Dog” ordinance which also includes following the very strict “Service Animal” regulations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) titles II and III.

Other ordinances and laws such as public drinking, vehicles on beach and fires on the beach, remain in effect throughout the year.

Another difference in the beach during the fall season is surfing. OCBP Capt. Arbin will allow modified surfing along the entire beach, except where guards are posted.

The beach patrol keeps the swimmers in front or near their stand and the surfers are encouraged to congregate away from the swimmers.

This is a time of the year the surfers enjoy. They can surf while the patrol is on duty and not be confined to designated surfing beaches like they are during the summer. Surfers must still utilize an ankle leash and remain 50 yards from the nearest swimmer.

Having surfers in the vicinity often proves valuable in saving lives. It is helpful to have the extra floatation devices in the water at this time of year when the coverage is spread over larger spans of beach.

It is not unusual for surfers to aid a distressed swimmer and keep them afloat until a surf rescue technician can reach them and take them safely back to shore.

Although surfing is modified, the beach patrol still reserves the right to prohibit surfing in certain areas or under certain conditions.

By enactment of section 106-94 (11) of the town code, the City Council allows the use of standup paddle boards beginning on the Monday following Labor Day, on any day that surfing is modified.

The use of skim boards and other watercraft (kite surfers, windsurfers, kayaks, etc) is still prohibited.

The beach patrol suggests taking extra precautions and make sure to check in with the surf rescue technician and always swim in the vicinity of the guard on duty.

The first priority of the Ocean City Beach Patrol continues to be public safety. 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.

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