lifeguard chairs

The Ocean City Beach Patrol provided numbers for the 2021 season, following the the last day that surf-rescue technicians (SRTs) were in lifeguard stands on Sunday. While in-water rescue numbers were up, head, neck and back injuries — primarily caused by waves breaking on shore — were down. OCBP Capt. Butch Arbin said these numbers typically fluctuate off each other, since prevalent rip currents typically indicate mild shore breaks.

The 2021 Ocean City Beach Patrol statistics are on the books and the numbers say there was a lot of variance from other years, but that everything fell into expected ranges.

OCBP Capt. Butch Arbin released preliminary numbers on surf-rescue technician (SRT) activities that show rip current rescues rose, while possible neck, head and back injuries — often caused by hard-crashing waves — were down.

“This was a typical but dizzying summer," Arbin said. “Everything was in normal ranges, what we consider normal for medical ranges. The rescues were on the busier side of normal, medical (calls) were on the lower side.”

On the year, interventions numbered 3,824 while there were only 47 possible neck, head and back injuries.

Arbin said that interventions, in other words, water rescues, typically fall within 2,000 and 4,000 in a given summer and more or less correlate with the degree that rip currents present a threat.

“(Neck, head and back injuries) usually hover around 90 to 100,” Arbin said.

When rip currents are present, the shore break, or waves breaking directly onshore, isn’t typically an issue, Arbin said.

In other words, if the currents are ripping, the waves aren’t crashing.

Arbin said that last year, rip currents were the second-leading cause of weather-related deaths in the country, a surprising number since so few states border a body of water that can produce the deadly currents.

“This year, rescues were up,” Arbin said. Here, rescues are 95-98 percent the result of a rip current. Worldwide they say it’s 85 percent because they have other (water hazards that we don’t have).”

SRTs were in lifeguard stands from the Saturday before Labor Day through Oct. 1 every day from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. During the season, certain ordinances are enforced on the beach by the OCBP, including dogs being allowed on the beach only when lifeguards are in the stand and no-smoking or vaping enforcement.

This year there were more than 900 dog-related reports and more than 8,200 smoking and vaping enforcements.

Ambulances and police were called 164 and 46 times, respectively. The Coast Guard and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police were summoned four times total.  Animal control was called five times.

Minor first aid — typically small cuts and bruises — was administered 2,824 times.

There were 371 cases of lost and found persons, and 245 official uses of beach wheelchairs.

There were 141,700 cases of “preventative action,” which are interventions when an SRT can intervene with a swimmer without getting in the water. Many of these cases are SRTs letting swimmers know they’re close to a rip current, Arbin said.

“The biggest thing is we finished the season,” he said. “There were two drownings when we were not on duty … People need to realize that if we’re not on duty they need to stay out of the ocean.”

The OCBP has a motto for that idea, which is very prevalent around Ocean City.

“Keep your feet in the sand until a lifeguard is in the stand.”

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Oct. 8, 2021.

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