Safe day at the beach? Thank the lifeguards


Whether it’s Jones Beach, on the South Shore, or Stehli Beach, in Bayville on the North Shore, summer on Long Island means that hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors will look to find fun under the sun.

But there is also danger.   

Amid the excitement and relaxation, it’s essential to recognize the importance of beach safety and the indispensable role lifeguards play in protecting beachgoers. Beaches are more than just picturesque landscapes; they are dynamic environments with inherent risks that require vigilance and expertise to navigate safely.

The ocean is unpredictable. Those venturing into the water often underestimate the power of the waves and currents, leading to life-threatening consequences.

Six people drown, on average, each year at regulated beaches and pool facilities across the state, according to the state Department of Health. But losing even one life is one too many.

Rip currents, in particular, pose a significant threat on beaches, swiftly pulling swimmers away from shore with alarming strength. Without proper knowledge and awareness, even experienced swimmers can find themselves in perilous situations.

It’s crucial for beachgoers to understand the signs of rip currents — murkier water, where sand is being churned up, or water that is flowing away from the beach instead of crashing onto it — and how to respond effectively, by swimming parallel to the shore and staying calm. But it’s just as critical to have trained professionals on hand to provide assistance when needed.

Lifeguards protect all who venture into the water. They undergo rigorous training to identify hazards, respond to emergencies, and perform rescues swiftly and effectively. They scan the water constantly, and are prepared to spring into action at a moment’s notice: Last summer, they rescued more than 2,500 swimmers in distress across Long Island. And beyond their lifesaving abilities, lifeguards also offer valuable guidance on water safety for all who ask, to help prevent accidents before they occur.

Lifeguards serve as a reassuring presence for beachgoers. Families can relax and enjoy their time on the sand, knowing that these trained professionals are on duty to ensure their safety. This sense of security encourages more people to visit the beach, fostering a vibrant and inclusive community space for all.

Despite their indispensable role, lifeguards often face challenges in securing adequate resources and support. Budget constraints and staffing shortages can strain lifeguard services, putting both beachgoers and guards themselves at risk.

The state recently earmarked $5 million for hiring lifeguards, amid a nationwide shortage that affected a third of the country’s water attractions last years. The hiring initiative is expected to raise pay by as much as 34 percent among the municipalities that employ lifeguards. Those municipalities have until July 26 to apply for the state grant money. 

It’s imperative for governments, communities and beachgoers alike to recognize the value of lifeguards and prioritize the funding and resources necessary to maintain strong teams of rescuers. Investing in lifeguard training, equipment and facilities is an investment in public safety and the vitality of our beaches.

To that end, the New York State Lifeguard Corps — which represents roughly 1,200 lifeguards — is campaigning to have them recognized as first responders, the same designation as police, fire and emergency medical technicians. That would give lifeguards access to the same medical and survivor benefits afforded other first responders, as well as legal protection from victims’ claims when performing lifeguard duties.

Lifeguards also play a crucial role in emergency response and disaster management, providing essential support during natural disasters and other crises.

Beach safety is a collective responsibility. While the allure of the ocean is undeniable, it’s essential to approach it with caution and respect for its power. Lifeguards serve as the backbone of beach safety. Their dedication, expertise, and commitment to public safety make our beaches safer and more enjoyable for everyone. As another summer season gets under way, let’s recognize and appreciate the vital role they play in safeguarding our shores and preserving the joy of beach-going for all.