Summer Beach Camp Safety – Lifeguards On The Sand

Here we are and weeks away from many of the beach camps starting their programs and that means heavier traffic on Pacific Coast Highway as parents drop their kids off for the day . Many of the beach camps are hiring counselors and preparing their programs although we have identified one area of staffing that could be improved. . If anyone does a quick search they will find a plethora of many beach camps to choose from and many have a great reputation. Many have had no issues that we can recall however last summer we saw a few things that had us concerned which has prompted us to write this blog.

We have been on a blitz to educate parents and even camp directors on the difference between pool lifeguards and ocean lifeguards. Why is that even a big deal? When it comes to differences in training, it is like night and day. We discourage any camp to have ill trained American Red Cross lifeguards acting as ocean lifeguards for many reasons.

Pool lifeguards are trained to effect rescues in the swimming pool setting which is far different than operating in the open water environment. Swimming pools are not prone to waves or dangerous currents. The pool setting does require sharp surveillance skills and does require a lifeguard to be proficient in swimming skills. Pool lifeguards are required to show they can swim 350 meters in a limited time frame. Although those requirements are in place, many are still passed by teachers despite their weak swimming skills which is another blog for another time.

The hours required for pool lifeguard certification is about 24 to 30 hours in length.

Provides entry-level participants the knowledge and skills to prevent recognize and respond to aquatic emergencies and to provide care for breathing and cardiac emergencies injuries and sudden illnesses until EMS personnel take over. Prerequisites: Minimum age: 15 years; Swim 300 yards continuously; Tread water for 2 minutes using only the legs; Complete a timed event within 1 minute 40 seconds by starting in the water swimming 20 yards surface dive to a depth of 7 to 10 feet to retrieve a 10-pound object return to the surface and swim 20 yards on the back to return to the starting point exit the water without using steps or a ladder. Participants who successfully complete the Lifeguarding course receive an American Red Cross certificate for Lifeguarding/First Aid/CPR/AED valid for 2 years.

Ocean lifeguards are the cream of the crop demonstrating the highest level of skills required for the open water environment. These are lifeguards who have had up to 80 hours or more of training including advanced first aid and even some have gone on to earn their EMT certifications. Ocean lifeguards are trained to effect rescues in rip currents and other open water currents. They are also experts in spotting rip currents and then performing preventive actions to ensure swimmer safety.

Ocean lifeguards are those who have been on water polo teams and even masters swim teams. To qualify as an ocean lifeguard, they must show the ability to swim anywhere between 500 to 1000 meters in a timed format. They must be physically fit and well disciplined. The job of lifeguard is not for the faint if heart or the weak.

In regards to beach camps, we understand that finding and hiring ocean lifeguards can be very difficult which is why many will hire pool lifeguards. Pool lifeguards are not ocean lifeguards! Last summer while working one of our contracted beaches, we observed beach campers in the water on several occasions getting caught in a rip current or getting too close to a rip current while a counselor or two were looking on. They had no clue that a danger in the water was lurking. What is more troubling is that one of the counselors was walking with a yellow lifeguard rescue can which inferred that he was a lifeguard. That was not the case. In many of the incidents, a Los Angeles County Lifeguard would do a prevent and in one case prompted a rapid response to swimmers caught in a rip.  On one occasion our lifeguards responded with County lifeguards for this particular camp. If parents knew what had happened, they would have been quite apprehensive about allowing their kids in the water.

When signing your kids up for beach camps, be sure to ask if the lifeguards on the sand are pool lifeguards or ocean lifeguards. Many camps will tell you that their staff are lifeguard certified but won’t admit it is a pool lifeguard certification rather than ocean lifeguard. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions as this is your child we are talking about.


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