With all the tropical activity off our coast this month and the subsequent record number of rescues by the Ocean City Beach Patrol, it’s startling there have been no fatalities reported this summer.
Certainly, the beach patrol and its staff deserve much of the credit for saving lives and keeping a watchful eye over the water. This is a talented, educated, experienced and dedicated bunch of folks who deserve praise for the job they do protecting the local and visiting population. The rank-and-file staff is the folks you see on the stands each day, but they are led by a knowledgeable management team that overlooks nothing and has a keen attention to detail. When the beach patrol is not keeping a watchful eye on the water, in some cases, the local surfing community fills the void by helping distressed swimmers while taking in some waves in their spare time.
It’s not unusual for the beach patrol to make rescues in the summer. That’s why they are there. That’s what they are trained to do, and they do it well, airing on the side of caution in most cases, as they should. However, the sheer volume of rescues has been amazing this summer.
During one week earlier this month, the patrol was making a rescue every minute. That pace has slowed somewhat, due to a decrease in rip currents caused by an offshore storm, but the patrol was dealing this week with another problem – a severe shore break. This is abnormal for this time of year. July is typically when the Atlantic Ocean is more like a pond or lake with waves that resemble large ripples of water.
Indeed, this summer, so far, has gone against the grain, and this week’s crushing shore break issue can be even more dangerous than rip currents because it affects the most vulnerable – children, non-swimmers and the elderly. These are the folks who typically stick close to shore because they feel safest. This is precisely where the waves were crashing this week. On more than one occasion this week, we heard of instances involving non-swimmers who were knocked off their feet by the shore break and subsequently needed to be rescued, or, at a minimum, some kind of attention from fellow beach-goers, despite the fact the water was only knee deep.
Education really is critical when it comes to the ocean. Conversing with a lifeguard on duty and observing the conditions for a few minutes before entering the water is a must. Even the most experienced swimmers have been known to do this. It’s not being a coward. It’s being smart, and there is something to be said for checking in with a lifeguard and question the conditions of the day. In most cases, the guards on duty have been in the water already on that particular day and have been observing the tides and currents. They know what they are talking about.
Additionally, it cannot be said enough during the peak summer season you are putting your life in danger if you swim when a lifeguard is not on duty. There’s really no reason to do it unless you are an experienced swimmer and familiar with the ways of the ocean. Most of our visitors do not fall into that category, and it’s foolish to risk your life.
As a result of the abnormally high surf and strong ocean conditions, caused primarily by unusually early tropical activity, this year has already been a summer to remember. It’s our hope it’s remembered just for that and not any other less pleasant reasons.