Jersey Shore Ocean Rescue Lifeguards

Photo courtesy of usla.org.

Well Trained and Ready to Serve

By Taylor Smith

Garden State residents have a nostalgic fondness for the Jersey Shore.

Those 127 miles of Atlantic coastline extending from Sandy Hook to Cape May bring to mind long, hot, thrill-filled days riding waves, building sandcastles, dining on seafood, enjoying sweet treats, and braving amusement park rides on the boardwalk after dark. A key component of the Jersey Shore experience is the ocean itself, and with that comes Beach Patrol units, which function as a highly elite team of ocean rescue lifeguards.

Each town has its own ocean lifeguard program. For example, since the 1940s, Sea Bright’s beaches have been surveyed and guarded by Sea Bright Ocean Rescue (SBOR). SBOR responds to emergencies covering 4 miles of public ocean. During the summer of 2015, SBOR pulled over 100 people from the Atlantic Ocean and prevented “well over 1,200 dangerous incidents,” as noted on www.seabrightnj.org. These rescues included emergency medical aid, underwater search, and recovery operations.

New Jersey lifeguards are on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Each lifeguard rookie completes over 75 hours of rigorous testing and training to earn a place on the ocean rescue team. Returning lifeguards also undergo 24 hours of training, including physical and medical conditioning, before the start of each new summer season. Each lifeguard is CPR-AED certified and all lifeguards are trained as aquatic medical first responders.

According to Lifeguard Certification NJ, candidates must be able to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less, pass an open water test, deep diving tests, a written exam, and a running test, which may be conducted on a track. During the summer season, all on-staff lifeguards are asked to maintain peak physical condition through daily training sessions that usually take place before their 9 a.m. start time.

The full United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) program includes kayak skills, rescue boards, and scanning the surf, along with instruction on how to deal with spinal injuries, heat stroke-related illnesses, missing persons, drug-related incidences, drownings, rip tides, undertows, inclement hurricane conditions, sharks, jellyfish stings, and more.

Photo courtesy of shutterstock.com.

So, what is involved in rookie screening?

The 2020 SBOR application requires an extensive tryout, physical assessment, and interviews. Applications are submitted through the shore town’s individual municipal employment websites (such as Sea Bright Borough Employment at seabrightoceanrescue.com). Applicants should also bring copies of their prior lifeguard and/or medical certification, including CPR, First Aid, or EMT.
Rookies who pass the initial screening must complete a 24-hour online medical responder course, undergo over 40 hours of comprehensive ocean rescue training, obtain thorough medical clearance by a physician, and pass the borough’s challenging ocean rescue and river rescue testing process.

No matter which Jersey Shore town one seeks to file an application with, all Beach Patrol teams in New Jersey adhere to the requirement guidelines set down by the United States Lifesaving Association, which serves as America’s nonprofit association of beach lifeguards and open water rescue. The USLA works to reduce the incidence of death and injury in aquatic environments through public education, national lifeguard standards, training programs, promotion of high levels of lifeguard readiness, and beach safety.

Summer 2020 is undoubtedly unique due to the ongoing risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Jay Gillian of Cape May County’s Ocean City said that while it may not be “business as usual” this summer, “there will be summer.” Ocean City has also purchased 100,000 face masks to hand out to visitors.

Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero recently announced in the Asbury Park Press that his town is making an effort to widen public beaches for the 2020 season to encourage social distancing efforts in the sand.

Spring Lake’s beaches are now open daily, but badges must be purchased in advance and sales will be closed once daily limits are reached. Access points to the beach require that masks be worn. Bathrooms are also open with new cleaning protocals and social distancing guidelines.

Badges are required at Point Pleasant Beach. Similar to other shore towns, daily badges will be available until max capacity is reached. In Ocean City, some restrictions will be placed on tents and canopies to reduce crowding on the sand. Hand sanitation stations have been set up along the boardwalk and at beach entry points. In Brigantine, beaches will be fully staffed through Labor Day weekend. This year’s team is 86 working guards, both male and female.

The Asbury Park boardwalk has one-way travel arrows indicated in both directions and benches have been removed. Daily beach passes can be purchased the night before for the following day on the Viply app. Police will be monitoring crowds and enforcing social distancing guidelines.

A beach badge is required for entry at Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. Only a limited number of daily wristbands will be sold each day on site and through the Viply app. There will also be limited public restroom access. Badges are currently required in Bay Head and Harvey Cedars. Swimming is allowed and social distancing will be enforced. Visitors to Mantoloking may be required to head north or south on the beach to enforce social distancing. Lifeguards will be present.

COVID-19 precautions for lifeguarding professionals are less certain, but the lifeguard stations and towers are sure to be sanitized and kept clean. All of this season’s lifeguards will be asked to follow the guidelines set forth by their individual municipality to ensure the health and safety of both visitors and lifeguard professionals.

Thankfully, tourists can expect to see the Beach Patrol units ready and waiting to serve, care for, and rescue those in need.

To learn more, visit www.usla.org.

Top, Long Branch, New Jersey – May 3, 2020: Aerial view of Jersey Shore beaches during the Covid-19 pandemic. (shutterstock.com)