18 On Guard

Assistant Crew Chief (ACC) Luke Ramina on 93rd Street in the north area on Monday, Sept. 14 using a piece of equipment issued to SRTs for fall guarding to aid in watching over a larger area. The next lifeguard to his north is at 100th Street.

(Sept. 18, 2020) 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 this time of the year, 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 beach goers 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 48 years (Capt. Butch Arbin's years with the patrol) and long before his time, the OCBP has never gone off duty following Labor Day. In fact, during the 70's we guarded into November.

The earliest the Beach Patrol has gone off duty for the season has been the Sunday of Sunfest weekend, which is usually the third weekend (Sunday) following Labor Day.

Although Sunfest was canceled this year, the patrol will still end the regular guarding of the beach on Sunday, Sept. 27.

During the period following Labor Day, as Ocean City Beach Patrol personnel return to other obligations we are in a reduced coverage mode, 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 25 stands (700 yards 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 with the start of college classes and the return of our education professionals to school systems throughout the U.S.

Thanks to Gov. Larry Hogan's decision to have Maryland public schools start students after Labor Day we were been able to retain our teachers for an additional one or two weeks longer than a couple seasons ago.

Unfortunately, due to action by the legislature this past year, most schools systems in Maryland will have students returning prior to Labor Day in 2020 and teachers a week or more before that, although all Maryland school systems are beginning online.

Additionally, many colleges required students to return earlier than originally planned due to testing and quarantine requirements for covid-19 and several are prohibiting on-campus students to leave once they arrive.

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.

With the new plan in place, 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.

The town has provided a travel stipend to help returning surf rescue technicians with the added cost of returning from distances over 110 miles away.

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 Ocean City beach until Sunday, Sept. 27.

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, PPE and AED equipped with one surf rescue technician (rider) acting as the primary rescue swimmer, while the other (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.

We implemented a before and after hours mobile patrol (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) two seasons ago, to be available for response should communications receive a 911 call for a swimmer in distress or someone needing assistance on the beach.

However, we have also dealt with hundreds of people each week who ignore the 24-hour-a-day ban on dogs on the beach and claim they thought the dog rule was only during guarding hours, which is not the case.

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

Another difference in the beach during the fall season is surfing.

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 stand-up paddle boards beginning on the Monday following Labor Day, on any day that surfing is modified.

There are specific requirements included in the ordinance and can be accessed on the town's website. The use of skim boards and other watercraft (kite surfers, windsurfers, kayaks, etc) is still prohibited.

As a reminder, surf rescue technicians will be on duty daily between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

To aide your surf rescue technician, the Beach Patrol suggests taking extra precautions and make sure to walk the short distance to the nearest lifeguard stand and check in with the surf rescue technician and always swim in their vicinity.

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 and locations when and where Beach Patrol personnel are on duty, never swim alone, always stay with the limits of their swimming ability and never rely on a flotation device in place of swimming ability.

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