Lifeguards save 191; one rescue made two minutes before 10 a.m. shifts start
(May 31, 2019) With the holiday’s tidal wave of visitors and an unusually gorgeous four days of sunshine, the Ocean City Beach Patrol had one of its busiest water rescues stints for Memorial Day weekend in years.
“We had incredible weather,” said Ocean City Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin, who is entering his 47th season. “The crowds were good and we had a high number of returning veterans guards, so we had more stands on the beach this year than we did last year.
Good thing, too, since the past weekend saw 191 rescues, with the first one taking place just minutes before the beach patrol lifeguards began their shifts.
“We had our first reported rescue two minutes before we were set to go on duty and that just set the tone,” Arbin said. “The guards walked back in like they never left.”
There were several heat-related illnesses reported on Sunday as well. When it came to water rescues, however, rip currents were at work.
“As far as rescues go, we had well over 100 rescues for the weekend and in our case, over 95 percent were rip current-related,” Arbin said. “Rip currents were high and people who went to the beach haven’t been there for a year so they’re not as aware of what’s going on, and they get into the ocean and then next thing you know, they find themselves in a rip current.”
Rip currents are created by wave action, and can draw people well outside of the distance they are accustomed to swimming to reach shore. Rip currents don’t drag people underwater as some might think, as fatigue is the real enemy. By fighting the fast-moving water, even the best swimmers can quickly tire and sink.
In order for more people to be aware of what to do in a rip current, Arbin recommends following the RIP system: Relax, I need help and Parallel.
A person caught in a rip current should be letting everyone know about it rather than trying to swim to shore. Arbin recommends waving your hands and shouting to get someone’s attention.
“If a person finds themselves in a rip current, not everybody needs to be rescued. They can get themselves out of it if they’re aware of what’s going on,” Arbin said. “If they do find themselves in trouble and they are not sure what to do, they need to alert us. That’s where only swim when we’re on duty comes into play.”
“P” for ‘parallel,’ means to swim parallel to the shore, thus cutting across the current to escape it instead of swimming against it. This method has come under question recently, but Arbin said it’s still effective here because of the distinct types of rip currents that form in Ocean City.
The beach patrol will be on duty every day from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. until about the third weekend in September.
Arbin also reminds everyone “to keep their feet in the sand until a guard is in the stand.”