OCEAN CITY—With the beginning of the annual education drain, the Ocean City Beach Patrol is starting to face challenges related to a drop-off in staff, but the resort’s 10 miles of sandy beaches will remain covered during the waning weeks of summer.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) slogan “Keep Your Feet in the Sand Until a Lifeguard is in the Stand” will perhaps be more important than ever during the remaining weeks of the summer season as the department is already experiencing dwindling numbers of available surf rescue technicians and staff to man the stands. For a variety of reasons, the OCBP never reached its full complement of surf rescue technicians (SRTs) this summer and has managed all season with wider distances between lifeguard stands.
It’s not a unique situation and occurs every year at this time because of the drain on available staff for education reasons. The annual reduced coverage structure typically begins in the second or third week in August as is largely due to the start of college classes and the return of the Beach Patrol’s education professionals to their respective positions throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
For example, OCBP Captain Butch Arbin is a long-time educator in the Charles County Public Schools system and while most students in Maryland public schools do not return until after Labor Day, most educators start making their way back to their classrooms. A recent study to explore the annual education drain revealed two OCBP lieutenants are educators and of the 12 sergeants on staff, eight were educators and two were college professors. There were 18 crew chiefs, of which eight were educators and two were college professors, and of the 17 assistant crew chiefs, 10 were students, according to the study. Many of the other rank-and-file lifeguards are also college or high school students.
Arbin said this week the time-honored tradition of the education drain has begun already in what was already a challenging year with staffing.
“Yes, we are starting the steady loss of staff,” he said. “We are at 80 stands as of yesterday [Monday]. We never got to full deployment this season with a peak of around 85 stands versus the usual 90.”
During the remaining weeks of summer, the OCBP will get creative with its coverage of the beach as it does every year at this time. As the number of manned stands continues to decrease and the distance between stands grows wider, the OCBP will deploy more mobile rescue units to patrol the beach and assist.
Of course, many of the OCBP staff that have education-related priorities during the week will return to man the beaches on the weekends throughout the rest of the season, but challenges will likely continue to grow during the week. Arbin said he and his command staff will get creative to ensure the beach is covered and safe although he said it was too early to determine the extent of the staff losses.
“We will see a significant drop,” he said. “I’m not sure how it will compare to past years yet.”
In the meantime, the OCBP is already preparing for recruiting for next season, according to Arbin.
“We start our testing for 2023 this Saturday,” he said. “We really need to pick up a good number before we finish our testing program on October 1.”
Meanwhile, the OCBP’s junior lifeguard program continues to thrive and there will likely be some an opportunity for some of those young candidates to move up ranks in the future. Arbin said the program has had great success this summer.
“We had another record year for Junior Beach Patrol,” he said. “We also won both the Mid-Atlantic USLA regional competition as well as the Rehoboth Lifeguard Olympics. Last night, we took a small group of Junior Beach Patrol kids to the junior competition in Rehoboth and they crushed the others.”
When the weekday coverage reduces, the Beach Patrol strongly suggests visitors and residents take extra precautions and walk the short distance to swim near a lifeguard. As usual, whether it’s the height of the season or the waning days of August and September, the Beach Patrol urges all beach patrons to restrict any beach or water-related activities to times when the OCBP personnel are on duty.