“You have more of a chance of getting struck by lighting than drowning on a guarded beach,” said Beach Haven’s Beach Patrol Captain Mike Lawrence recently.
Unfortunately, some Island bathers try to cheat those odds, sometimes with near tragic results.
Earlier this week three Good Samaritans rescued and revived a woman they pulled from the 27th Street beach in Ship Bottom nearly two hours after the lifeguards went off duty.
Borough Beach Patrol Captain Keith W. Stokes said the female swimmer was fortunate to be rescued and that one of the rescuers was a CPR certified lifeguard from North Jersey.
Stokes said after-hours bathing is a growing problem for beach communities all along the Jersey Shore. To help address the problem, Stokes said he has guards on stand by to patrol in case conditions warrant it, he said.
Should there be large waves, rough swells or very active rip currents, Stokes said he will put guards out from 5-8 p.m. in trucks and all terrain vehicles.
“We have had that system in place for as long as I have been here,” he said. The patrol assignments are based on seniority, which means his most experienced guards are usually the ones on patrol, he added.
Nearby, the 68th Street beach behind the Long Beach Township Municipal Complex and Police Headquarters is now guarded until 8 p.m. Township Beach Patrol Supervisor Don Myers said there are two guards on duty throughout the shift with one usually a certified EMT.
“We are getting a pretty good crowd out there with people coming from other parts of the island to take advantage of the guards.” said Myers, who added they are not checking for township beach badges at that hour.
Myers said the township decided to keep the guards on duty last month to give people a safe option after hearing about incidents in other Jersey shore locations. "We've been able to absorb the cost by adjusting the shifts of the personnel involved," said Meyers.
The beach patrol also has its water rescue team on call after hours and there are often guards and officers at their headquarters until 6:30 p.m. or later, said Myers.
Down in Beach Haven, Lawrence said he also has some of his officers on standby until 8 p.m. and that senior personnel are often still at headquarters in the early evening.
The borough is also fortunate to have a well trained water rescue team as part of the volunteer fire company, he added.
Barnegat Light’s Volunteer Fire Company also has a water rescue team. While there are no current plans for after hour guards right now, Borough Administrator Gail Wetmore said it is something they may need to look at in the future. “For right now, people should call 911 should they see someone in trouble,” she said.
Calling 911 is the first thing anyone should do no matter what beach they are on, said Lawrence.
As to the future, Lawrence and Stokes said they met with Meyers and the captain of the Harvey Cedars lifeguards back in June to look at the situation and other issues affecting beach safety. The municipal police chiefs were also at the meeting, said Stokes.
“We are looking at getting everybody on the same page and maybe coordinating and streamlining some of the processes,” said Stokes.
He added one of the things to come out of the meeting is developing a plan to improve communications with his patrol and the Long Beach Township dispatchers that handle after hours calls.
All of those interviewed agreed funding is a problem for any future actions. “You don’t want to put dollars before people’s safety, but it is the reality of the situation,” said Stokes.