OUR POSITION: Lifeguards are aptly named for their duty to save lives. Do we need lifeguards on all beaches?
Lifeguards — stereotyped and romanticized in movies and TV — are stationed on beaches and pools for one reason. They are there to save lives. And they’re good at it.
Sarasota County offers real evidence of their skills. The county puts lifeguards on six beaches — Lido, Nokomis, Siesta, North Jetty, Venice and Manasota — spread along a 35-mile coastline and they are some of the safest beaches in Florida. Lifeguards there pass biannual testing to maintain a skill level that will save a life when needed.
Charlotte County has no lifeguards on its beaches. Past County Commissions did not believe the expense is justifiable. And they may have a point since Todd Dunn, public relations manager for the Charlotte County Fire and EMS, said he can’t remember a drowning on Charlotte County beaches. We searched for news of drownings in Charlotte County and found the last beach drowning in the area was July 15, 2017 when Godrien “Gody” Marcelin, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Port Charlotte High, drowned at Boca Grande Beach, which is not in Charlotte County, but close.
Marcelin, who could not swim, was evidently caught in a riptide while visiting the beach with a youth group. A group leader jumped in the water to try to find and save him but had no luck. Law enforcement arrived eight minutes after a 911 call but did not find the youth’s body for almost half an hour.
Most every lifeguard in Florida must take part in the United States Lifesaving Association testing. The USLA sponsors an annual competition among lifeguards from all over the U.S. — just one way to keep lifeguards in top shape while exhibiting the skills that haul people caught in riptides back to shore or bring someone overcome by fatigue or illness in from dangerous waves and depths of the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel recently profiled one of the state’s top lifeguards, Jim McCrady, who is ending his 34-year career saving lives on the beach.
McCrady told the newspaper that in 2000, there was only one beach patrol in the entire Panhandle and there were an average of 30 drownings a year. The USLA got involved in 2005 and created six lifeguard agencies there and the number of drownings has been slashed to about 10 a year. Still too many, but a significant decrease.
As a state, Florida had averaged over 70 drownings a year, according to the Sun Sentinel, but that number has been cut more than half to about 30 a year since USLA criteria has been installed on most beaches.
While Charlotte County has no lifeguards, the Lemon Bay Sunrise Rotary bought bright yellow rescue tubes a couple of years ago and stationed them on the Englewood beaches. The tubes are large, yellow floats with ropes that a swimmer can tie to their ankle and go help someone in distress.
The Rotary’s gift was a great idea. But we wonder if Charlotte County should rethink its stand on lifeguards. We’ve been lucky for a few years. And, we admit, our beaches are not the most expansive in the state. But a lifeguard is the best life insurance policy on a beach.
What do you think?