(Aug. 13, 2021) So far this summer we have experienced our fair share of heat and humidity, but mostly we have enjoyed some very pleasant beach days.
August typically brings hot humid temperatures and rougher ocean conditions as tropical storm activity gets more prevalent.
As the Atlantic Basin experiences more storm activity, it will begin to push larger more frequent waves onto our beach. With this activity, rip currents, shore break and what some people refer to as “great body boarding waves” develop and have the potential to create dangerous situations for swimmers.
People who are unaware of the ocean’s power and swiftly changing movements can suddenly find themselves in trouble without realizing it.
Swimmers who overestimate their abilities while underestimating the power of the ocean and its waves and currents may be in for an unpleasant life-altering experience.
The crushing power of a ton of water in the form of a wave can cause serious or fatal bone and joint injuries.
In addition to our slogan, “Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard is in the stand” we recommend that beach patrons introduce themselves and their children to the surf rescue technician on duty and ask about the current water conditions for the day.
The lifeguards are happy to answer any questions. They have information about potential hazards that you should be aware of.
Your surf rescue technician may even gather everyone on their beach around their stand for a safety talk to make sure you are aware of constantly changing conditions. Just because you heard “the talk” before, don’t dismiss it as unnecessary, since it is based on changing conditions and new information.
However, if an unfortunate accident should happen, surf rescue technicians are well prepared to handle any emergency.
Although broken ankles, dislocated shoulders, concussions and cracked ribs are not uncommon injuries for active people, the most serious of these involve head, neck and back injuries.
Most people are aware that on land it is always best not to move a person who may have a back injury. However, in the ocean the movement of the waves makes leaving the victim in the surf, to possibly sustain more injuries, not an option and if they are unconscious or immobile may create a drowning situation.
A quick and controlled removal is critical but putting victims on backboards while in the surf can actually cause more damage.
Already this season, our surf rescue technicians used this method on several different victims all of which had a favorable outcome and no serious injuries.
Unfortunately, in a few past instances the neck injury was also associated with cardiac arrest, however, CPR and the use an AED restarted the victim’s heart, but the outlook is still grim due to broken vertebrae in the neck. Doctors often call us and commend us for the way we extract potential neck injury victims and keep them immobile until EMS arrives.
Beach Patrol guards are taught how to effectively and carefully extract victims from the surf who may have sustained an injury to the head, neck or back.
Guards work as a team to carry a victim to safety while minimizing movement to the head, neck and back. The Beach Patrol has collaborated with medical professionals to modify a technique of removing victims with suspected neck or back injuries out of deep and/or shallow water.
The technique has been refined over many years of training and usage from its introduction as a technique developed in Hawaii. The modified technique is unique to the OCBP, but has developed with input from the medical community and emergency providers.
It has been approved by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services as a state standard with the Ocean City Beach Patrol as the only organization that is certified to teach other first responders and organizations in this victim removal technique.
Because of our experience and expertise in this area we have been asked by beach patrols as far away as Brazil to share our training materials and have been featured presenters at several statewide Emergency Medical Services symposiums.
A few seasons ago we were contacted by one of the largest year-round beach patrols in California and they have requested training materials for our technique which they feel is more effective that what their current protocols are. They even indicated a desire to make our procedure the national standard.
As we network with other beach patrols around the world, we all agree that the most common culprit of neck injuries results from swimmers that are body surfing or body boarding incorrectly or in unsafe conditions.
To make sure you don’t experience our extraction technique first hand, use the proper technique for riding waves.
The safest method is to get in front of the wave so it is pushing you out in front and finish your ride before running out of water. Body boarding on the top of a breaking wave may cause you to be propelled to the ocean floor.
To prevent this, stay on the rear half of the board and if you need to bailout, go off the back of the board.
The proper way to body surf a wave is to have your hands out in front of your body; this allows for more control of movement in the water.
The most dangerous condition exists when we are experiencing shore break. Shore break occurs when waves continue to build and crash with full force on the shore with little or no water depth.
When unsuspecting victims find themselves on a breaking wave and they are being thrown into shallow water they have set themselves up for a tragedy. Never ride a wave during shore break conditions or play in the impact zone.
Although education and prevention are the primary focus of the Beach Patrol mission, surf rescue technicians are well trained and prepared to handle severe neck and back injuries.
If they find a victim unconscious and the injury is unknown, the surf rescue technicians are trained to treat any unknown injury as a suspected neck back injury.
Lifeguards will often be alerted to beach patrons with facial abrasions from hitting their head on the ocean bottom. Sometimes people will come up to the guard and tell them they feel tingling after being slammed by a wave.
Beach Patrol protocol requires the guards treat these situations as if the victim had a neck back injury.
Being aware of the dangers that could occur in the ocean is the first step to prevention. Diving or doing flips in shallow water as well as riding waves that are breaking on the beach could lead to serious injuries or death.
Never underestimate the power of the ocean. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe by always checking with the surf rescue technician on duty about daily surf conditions at your beach.
As a reminder to anyone diving into any body of water, not just the ocean, we say “Feet first, first time.”
Although, each surf rescue technician is fully trained and prepared for any emergency that may occur while they are on duty, they are unable to assist you if you go in the ocean while the Beach Patrol is off-duty.
A few years ago around this time, we had two avoidable tragedies when people chose to swim both before and after our 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. published guarding hours.
This year, there have already been two off-duty drowning deaths. The greatest sadness with these totally avoidable drowning deaths is that so many people are affected: parents, siblings, children, extended family and friends.
Yet, had they not made the very poor decision to swim when lifeguards were off duty, these families would have returned home with wonderful memories rather than planning for a funeral.
In the past 50 years most of the night-time drownings that have occurred involved alcohol and people taking chances they would not have taken had they been sober. Just remember if you or someone you care about has been drinking they should stay out of the ocean. This could save the life of you or someone you care about.
We are glad you are here and we want to help you stay safe. So please, “Keep your feet in the sand, until the lifeguard is on the stand!”