18 on guard-Rob Flynn

Ocean City Beach Patrol Crew Chief Rob Flynn scans the beach during his shift last summer. He will again be in the area of the Clarion Hotel on 101st Street, managing his crew.

(May 22, 2020) This offseason is one none of us will forget.

I know we are all ready to try to get back to some normalcy.

Once the first day of the summer season makes its glorious mark, I think it is safe to say that we are all about letting those sunny vibes flow.

Although we still might be getting use to the “new normal,” we still associate the beach with relaxation time.

We welcome the upcoming warm months, the season of endless possibilities and adventures that will be sure to include safety and social (physical) distancing.

We will begin with our annual prayer service to start the summer season. Historically, we would begin by gathering on the Boardwalk.

This year, we will move onto the beach to have more space, where we will pray for our residents, visitors, town leaders and elected officials for a safe and successful season for all of those involved with public safety and emergency response in the Ocean City area; the United States Coast Guard Station Ocean City, the Ocean City Police Department, Ocean City Fire Department, and the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

We encourage members of these agencies and members of the community they serve to join us as we ask for protection for those who serve and for those they work to protect.

Anyone can come to this kickoff and everyone is invited.

Based on the past few months, this year’s prayer service may be the most appropriate of any of the past 22 years.

It will be located at Somerset Street on the beach at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 23 and we will be sure to practice our physical distancing with others.

Following the prayer service our season begins.

I know that everyone is anticipating that feeling of soaking up some Ocean City rays with the scent of the salty water air, the sound of crashing waves and sand between your toes. We have waited all winter and spring for this.

Ocean City expects to see over 8 million visitors this season and although we are expecting things to be different, rest assured that when you go on the beach you will see a reassuring sight that hasn’t changed, your surf rescue technician on their stand, just like “normal.”

We want everyone to enjoy their time at the beach and stay safe while experiencing adventures in the sun, and with a bit of education, it can be.

A relaxing beach weekend can turn sour with just one rogue wave or a careless mistake from a uniformed beach goer.

While most bad beach days end with little more than sunburn in need of a good slathering of Aloe Vera gel, serious injuries are more common than we’d like to believe.

At the beach when there is an emergency, seconds count and you can count on your surf rescue technician (SRT/lifeguard) to be there when and where you need them.

Ocean City employs over 200 surf rescue technicians that man the stands over 10 miles of beach.

Our lifeguards are the fastest, bravest, best trained lifeguards in the world, making thousands of rescues each summer.

With the help of Ocean City Today we will begin our weekly series of Beach and Ocean Safety Tips.

Before hitting the waves and to get you started off on the right “sandy” foot, here are a few tips to help you keep your beach trips as safe as can be.

• Only swim when a lifeguard is on duty.

We are dedicated to guarding and maintaining safety along Ocean City’s beach seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

With that being said, let me remind you of one of our most important messages; “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguards in the stand!”

The ocean is unpredictable and statistics show that most of the drownings in the world occur during a time when lifeguards are not on duty.

In Ocean City, over 95 percent of all drownings that have occurred in the near 90 years of the beach patrol, have occurred when guards were not on duty.

• Check in with the lifeguard.

We also encourage you to touch base with the lifeguard each time you visit to learn about current conditions.

Each day they write a beach or ocean tip on the back of their stand.

Be aware that currents will naturally push you down the shore, so make note of where you started. Try remembering a stable landmark like the lifeguard’s stand or a particular condo or building on shore.

Make a note of which way the current is moving. Return to that spot in the water regularly so you’re never far from a lifeguard.

Parents also have had moments of panic when suddenly there child is no longer where they last saw them, only to see them running back from a block down the beach, due to this long shore current.

• Watch for rip currents.

Waves don’t always break evenly along the shore. And when they don’t – when they break more strongly in some areas than others – it can cause a circulation in the water that produces a rip current.

They are the number one hazard for beach goers and can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea.

If you see a current of choppy, off-colored water extending from the shore, steer clear. If you do get pulled out, stay calm, save your energy (let the current carry you for a while) and keep breathing.

Don’t try to swim against the current.

Gain your composure and start swimming parallel to the shore until you’re out of the current. Then, turn and swim diagonally toward the shore.

If you can’t make it to the shore, wave your arms and make noise so someone can see or hear you and get help.

The best advice, again, is to check in with the lifeguard. They can tell you the best place to swim and they have a nice description of how to spot rip currents on the back of their stand.

Remember, if the beach patrol is off duty and you get in trouble there is no one to save your life.

• Be aware of the waves.

They’re much more powerful than you think.

We have found that injuries resulting from strong waves can range from simple sprains, broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders to more serious injuries, including blunt organ trauma and spinal injuries (which can lead to paralysis).

Another culprit to be aware of is shorebreak, or waves that break directly on shore (rather than breaking a few yards out and rolling in more slowly).

These waves in particular have the potential to cause serious neck and spinal injuries.

Never put your back to the waves (letting large waves impact your back can result in the same type of injury as a rear end auto collision).

Just be sure to check in with the surf rescue technician before hitting the surf to ask about the wave conditions for the day. Your lifeguard is more than happy to point out shorebreak and let you know when and where there is a safer place to swim.

• Sand holes can be dangerous.

People love to dig holes at the beach, but it can be dangerous because they can collapse on the people digging them.

Once a person is buried in the sand it is very difficult to dig them out. Even a small hole can trap you.

Just as a person can drown in a small amount of water, it doesn’t take a very deep hole to trap a child.

The rule followed by the beach patrol is that holes may only be as deep as the knee of the smallest person in the group. Lifeguards enforce the knee-deep policy for your safety.

• Stay sober.

Alcohol doesn’t only affect judgment, it can also dehydrate you, increasing the likelihood of heat-related sicknesses.

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

Compounded by the 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 take risks they usually would not and can end up hurting themselves in any number of ways.

We know it’s tempting to enjoy a few Pina Coladas while soaking in the sun , but if you’re going to partake, make sure you are obeying the law, staying off the beach and steer clear of the surf and hydrate properly.

• Save your skin.

Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for developing melanoma (skin cancer) later in life.

Racking up more than five sunburns at any age also doubles the risk for melanoma.

Keep the burns at bay by slathering on a high quality broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 or higher (our guards use Panama Jack for sun protection).

Make sure you have a source of shade like hats, umbrellas and tents that are readily available, especially during the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Remember, if you are using an umbrella for shade, you are responsible for its safe use. Never leave it unattended if you leave the beach and keep an eye on wind direction and changes in weather.

Your eyes can also be damaged by exposure to the suns UV rays, so never forget to wear a pair of high-quality sunglasses.

Lifeguards wear polarized glasses to help cut down the glare off the water and so they can see you better.

• What to bring and not to bring to the beach.

Always bring any medications that you might need in an emergency (epi pen, appropriate snack for diabetics, heart medication, etc).

Also, bring plenty of water because once you are thirsty you are already becoming dehydrated.

Don’t forget footwear, because on a hot day the sand can cause very serious second-degree burns by just crossing the beach to your towel.

Never bring valuables to the beach. Leave them at home, in your condo or in your car and have an extra set of keys with you.

Keep the above tips in mind and have an action plan before hitting the waves.

Even if you’re heading to the pool or lake instead of the ocean, heed our warnings. Many of the tips above apply to hanging out near any body of water.

No matter where you’re headed, we’ve rounded up eight major safety tips to help you keep safe at the beach.

We’ll never know how many lives will be saved by the lifeguards’ vigilance, but you can help and do your part by reading our safety advice each week and sharing the information with others.

You are strongly encouraged to check in with the lifeguard each time you visit to learn about current conditions. Each day they write a beach or ocean tip on the back of their stand.

Let the summer adventures begin in Ocean City, and always remember to “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard’s in the stand!”

If you think you would like a position with the beach patrol, ask any of our surf rescue technicians or visit our website at www.ococean.com/ocbp.

We are still hiring for this summer. We have tests scheduled for May 24, 25 and 30. There is no certification required and we pay you $15.25 while we train you.

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