OCBP running-surf academy.jpg

Staffing levels not ideal, but expected to increase

After a rough recruiting season, Ocean City Beach Patrol staff are as prepared as they can be to climb up into the stands and guard the resort’s 10 miles of beach for the next four months.

“Right now, our staffing levels are below what we would like to have mid-season,” Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said of the staffing situation leading into Memorial Day weekend. “But we never plan to be fully staffed when we start the season.”

The first surf rescue academy began Monday for this year’s 23 new recruits and Arbin said the veterans will start to trickle in for the official start to the season at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The lifeguards — or surf rescue technicians as they are officially named — will guard the entire length of the beach from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day until Sept. 24.

Arbin said the stands, especially at the beginning of the season, will be strategically placed.

“We don’t equidistance them all 10 miles,” he explained. “Because we know statistically where we’re busier, where we’re less busy, where the beach is more crowded, where the beach is less crowded. We use data, historical data we’ve collected, to decide where we need to place the stands.”

He added that the stands will be more spread out this Memorial Day than they were last year, but the shortfall will be supplemented with mobile patrol units.

As a part of a package of extra incentives City Council members recently approved to help entice more applicants in the face of low recruitment numbers, three new ATVs will be added this season to join the existing mobile units.

“That helps in the areas where guards are a little more spread out,” Arbin said of the fleet.

He added that people are urged to swim directly in front of the stands with guards for the best protection and safest swimming experiences.

“That’s what we want people to do, take some responsibility for their safety, and not just figure, ‘Oh I can see a lifeguard stand down the beach,’” Arbin said. “Because the lifeguard can’t see that distance and see if a person’s in trouble. It’s impossible.”

The other new incentives – increased $500 signing bonuses and time-and-a-half for SRTs and supervisors who work over their regular weekly hours — were added to a series of other perks implemented last year.

Arbin said there are two more tests for guards on June 3 and 10 and a second surf rescue academy set for June 18. Fifty-eight people have registered for the two tests, which he said is a lot.

“I hope they all show up,” Arbin said.

He added that the challenge thus far has not been with recruiting, as people know about the jobs and go online and apply.

“The hard part is getting people who are physically able to do the job,” Arbin said. “And I don’t mean the Olympic athletes. I’m talking about somebody who can swim one length of a pool.”

This story appears in the May 26, 2023 print edition of the OC Today.

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