OCEAN CITY — With the onset of Labor Day weekend, Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) is in the process preparing for the fall season and coping with reduced manpower.
“We’re changing the way we do our coverage,” said OCBP Captain Butch Arbin.
During the peak beach season from May until August, OCBP uses 92 lifeguard stands, stretching them across the 10 miles of beach that make up Ocean City’s shore. Manning those stands are Surf Rescue Technicians (SRTs), some full-time, though the majority are seasonal, often students who have to return to campus in the fall. It is largely because of this that OCBP’s active roster will only be a fraction of its full strength during September. Arbin estimated that he will have about 50 SRTs, though not all will be on duty at the same time.
To compensate, the number of stands will be reduced from 92 to about 54, depending on how many SRTs are available. OCBP will still be covering the same 10-mile stretch, however, and the stands will be spread out equidistant from each other. Because there will be a much greater distance between SRTs during September, mobility will play a much bigger part in the OCBP rescue strategy.
“We’ll have our mobile patrol,” said Arbin.
Mobile patrols will consist of a two person All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), which will be equipped with First Aid and a defibrillator. One member of the patrol will act as a rescue swimmer, while the other is responsible for communication and providing backup.
Additionally, because the stands will be further apart, the traditional semaphore will be replaced with radio contact between SRTs. Arbin asserted that, even with less manpower, OCBP will be able to meet to its high standards through September.
“We’re ready to go,” he said.
However, Arbin wanted to remind beach-goers that OCBP coverage is only as good as a swimmer’s willingness to listen. SRTs will only be on duty from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Arbin urges the public to only swim within close proximity of one of the stands, even if it means taking a few extra steps.
Arbin added that coverage will also increase during the weekends, when nearby students are able to briefly leave campus and return to OCBP. While Arbin is confident in his team’s ability to keep beachgoers safe through Sept. 25, he warned that OCBP takes down all stands on Sept. 26. Arbin’s advice to anyone who wants to venture into the water without OCBP supervision was simple and direct.
“Don’t go swimming until May,” he said.
Arbin did remark that OCBP will continue to have a “presence” on the beach even after the stands come down and will do so until Columbus Day in early October. The presence will be minimal, however, and Arbin cautions swimmers not to become overconfident after Sept. 25 because they assume a SRT will come from nowhere to save them. Instead, he describes what OCBP will be in the fall as a “stopgap measure,” more akin to an emergency response team than traditional lifeguards.
“We’ll be relying on a public call,” said Arbin.
Even with the season winding down in Ocean City, OCBP is already preparing for next summer. Screening for new SRTs began with a test on Aug. 13. The next and possibly final physical skill evaluation for prospective candidates will take place this Saturday. Any interested in joining OCBP should call 410-289-7556.