(Sept. 6, 2019) Although Labor Day marks the traditional end of the summer season and begins what the Ocean City Beach Patrol refers to as “fall guarding,” I assure you that there will still be a lot of beautiful sunny beach days ahead, well into the fall.
I personally plan on taking advantage of this season.
Even though it’s fall we still have safety messages. What we want you to be aware of is that fall guarding is different from guarding during the summer months and it comes with many unique challenges.
During this period, we are in a reduced coverage mode with fewer lifeguard towers and surf rescue technicians patrolling the beach.
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 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.
These teachers are some of our most experienced surf rescue technicians and mostly in supervisory rolls on the beach. However, now that Labor Day has passed we have lost all of our educators for weekdays, although many will return to help cover our beach on weekends.
Additionally, tropical storm activity in the Atlantic is usually at its peak during this time and contributes to rougher surf. This heavy surf contributes to the frequency and severity of rip currents, which account for 95 percent of surf rescues.
With fewer guards on the beach and stands that are farther apart, a guard may have to run four blocks or more (as far as 800 meters or a half-mile) to rescue a victim where as in the summer they need only run 50 meters.
In order to increase safety and coverage of the beach, the beach patrol will rely more heavily on its motorized support vehicles to patrol between stands.
This enables them to provide backup if the need should arise, compared to the summer when the surf rescue technicians in the stand on both sides of the rescue are responsible to back up the rescue and give support if needed.
Additionally, each surf rescue technician will be issued a hand-held radio as well as binoculars to assist with coverage of the area between stands.
Although we have less available personnel, the beach patrol remains 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 beachfront. While nearby beaches in Delaware and Assateague are unguarded, have reduced hours and days or where the guarded area is reduced to just a few blocks.
As this redistribution occurs, the location and distance between stands changes. We will continue to provide coverage from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. along all 10 miles of Ocean City beach until Sunday, Sept. 22.
This coverage will be done with fewer personnel and lifeguard stands; however, we will supplement this coverage by increasing the number of mobile rescue units patrolling the beach.
These mobile units are first aid and AED equipped with one surf rescue technician (rider) acting as the primary rescue swimmer while the other surf rescue technician (driver) maintains radio communication and backup during an emergency. Both are qualified as surf rescue technicians, medical first responders and are quad (ATV) certified.
Surfing locations is another difference you may notice during the fall season.
OCBP Capt. Butch Arbin will modify the ordinance that restricts surfing and allow surfing along the entire beach, except where guards are posted.
The beach patrol keeps the swimmers in front or near their stand and 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 flotation 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 restrictions have been modified, the beach patrol still reserves the right to prohibit surfing in certain areas or under certain conditions.
Another difference is the standup paddle board rule. Beginning the Monday following Labor Day, Sept. 9, standup paddle boards (SUPs) will be allowed, Monday through Friday during the day.
Standup paddle boarders must follow all applicable Maryland state boating laws and enter and exit the water away from the areas where we are encouraging people to swim.
The use of skim boards and other watercraft (kite surfers, windsurfers, prone paddle boards, kayaks, etc) is still prohibited.
Even though fall guarding is different than guarding during July, the first priority of the beach patrol continues to be public safety. To aid the 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 near or better yet, in front of them.
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.
For additional information, please call beach patrol headquarters.
Guard stand placement may relocate daily as conditions change. To locate the closest stand to your beach you may go to the official beach patrol website (ococean.com/ocbp) and scroll down to the “Beach Conditions” table and click on the stands location link or by calling headquarters at 410-289-7556 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.