Kristin Joson

Kristin Joson

(July 30, 2021) The beach may seem like a great place to relax and enjoy alcoholic beverages; however, it is both illegal and unsafe to do so.

Given the combination of heat, the dehydrating and disorienting effects of alcohol, and impaired judgment, you can understand why Ocean City does not allow alcohol on its beach.

Alcohol depletes your body of the vital fluids it needs to keep you up and running throughout the day, and it can also give swimmers a false sense of confidence when it comes to ocean swimming.

Almost every guard has a story about rescuing a swimmer who drank too much alcohol. A person who has a healthy understanding of the ocean and their own swimming ability might not usually head out very far, but after a few drinks they might find themselves feeling braver.

They may take other uncharacteristic risks, such as riding a wave into the shallow water. Alcohol and water just do not mix.

Years ago, a young man celebrating his high school graduation had one too many drinks and took a headfirst dive into two inches of water; he is now paralyzed from the neck down.

More recently, a young adult (under the age of 21) was reported to have consumed too much alcohol, swam against his friends’ advice, and his body was recovered an hour later. These are avoidable tragedies at the hands of alcohol that not only affect the person with poor judgment, but also friends and family who must deal with the loss.

Intoxicated swimmers’ reaction time and physical ability are diminished and often lead to the person finding themselves in trouble in the water. If this occurs between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. they will be lucky enough to be rescued by a lifeguard, although the individuals are often transported to a medical facility for further evaluation.

Although we do a very good job of keeping people safe while we are on duty - regardless of how reckless they are - we unfortunately respond to several off-duty “swimmer in distress” calls each season, some of which are fatal and almost all are alcohol related. If you’re going to drink, don’t swim or drive, and use caution crossing the highway.

In addition to water-related accidents, heat-related illnesses also have a direct correlation to alcohol consumption. Historically, as temperatures rise throughout July, so do our onshore medical emergencies. Some alcohol-related incidents can be related to events up to 12 hours before the incident.

In addition to Maryland’s drinking laws, you might not be aware that Ocean City has its own laws and ordinances. Those that relate to alcohol are:

* Public Consumption of Alcohol has been reclassified (2012) as a criminal offense and may lead to your arrest.

Consuming alcohol in public by anyone is prohibited.

* Carrying an open container of alcohol is a violation. This includes the beach areas, sidewalks and the Boardwalk.

* Using false identification is a criminal offense that can result in a fine and/or loss of license.

* If your beverage is in a glass container, you are also guilty of violating an additional ordinance.

You should note that the law is specific about the consumption of alcohol and has nothing to do with the container it is in (except that glass is also prohibited). Pouring a beverage into a cup is not acceptable.

Some patrons know the law, but choose to disobey and take their alcohol to the beach, then attempt to hide the behavior from the Beach Patrol, which is in charge of enforcing Ocean City’s ordinances on the beach.

I often find it ironic that a 30- or 40-year-old beach patron will try to hide beer from an 18-year-old lifeguard…this behavior means the lifeguard must then divide their time dealing with challenging patrons and watching the water at the same time.

Obey the laws, listen to your lifeguard, and keep the alcohol off the beach. Violation of these laws may require another trip to Ocean City for a court date. Please do your part to keep everyone safe when it comes to alcohol, and always remember “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!”

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