By MADDY VITALE
The waning days of summer are here, but there are still some warm beach days ahead. Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Chief Renny Steele said vacationers can enjoy the beaches, but is urging them to swim only in guarded areas.
And, with many lifeguards back at high school and college now, there will be limited coverage. Steele said during an interview Thursday that beachgoers need to check which beaches have lifeguards on duty on the Beach Patrol’s website, www.sicbp.com. There are daily updates on the top of the home page.
“We post every morning on our website,” Steele noted. “Today, we only have two beaches open, but on the weekends, we will open more. Lifeguards who are going to local colleges and high schools come back to work on the weekends, but we are limited because some of the guards go to colleges far away.”
The golden rule when it comes to swimming is to “only enter the ocean on protected beaches while a lifeguard is on duty.”
And this year with the continued COVID-19 pandemic, businesses primarily in the service and hospitality industries have struggled with a shortage of workers. Steele said it has been a challenge retaining enough lifeguards, too.
“I think one of the biggest problems is with all of the qualifications to become a lifeguard, you need athletes. They are all going back to school to play sports. It is a catch-22,” he said.
Steele said that the shortage of help also touched the beach patrol.
“We started the season a few short of manpower. When you start off short, you have problems mid-summer and at the end of the summer,” he explained. “We started the season at 29 and could have used a few more. We had a lot of people working six days a week. They were ready for a vacation.”
Steele, who has been on Sea Isle’s Beach Patrol since 1968, said the requirements to become a lifeguard are much more stringent than in previous years.
“When I started in 1968, there were really very few requirements. You had to run the Boardwalk or swim to the buoy and back,” he recalled. “It is very difficult to find good guards. They have to meet so many requirements during the preseason from CPR to other training.”
The job looks fun, but it is not easy, he added. And it is all about keeping people safe, being on constant watch and having the physical ability at any moment to rush into the water to save a swimmer.
“There are sacrifices you need to make,” he said. “Some kids need to join the swim team so that they can pass the swimming test. There is so much involved anymore, and I don’t think the general public has any idea.”
Other shore communities have grappled with the lifeguard shortage. Ocean City even held a tryout near the end of the summer season to hire some replacement lifeguards for those returning to school or work.
Steele said Sea Isle prides itself on its Junior Lifeguard Program.
“We pull from the Junior Lifeguard Program. Each patrol has its own way of coping with their shortage situation,” he pointed out.
The program trains roughly 40 participants each year, ages 14 through 17. By law, the beach patrol can hire junior lifeguards who are 16 and 17.
“Some of the kids who worked for us this year from the Junior Lifeguard Program had a couple of years of experience in the program,” Steele said. “They know the drills and the signs we use. It works out well each year.”
As for the shortage this year, Steele said that Sea Isle’s Beach Patrol has done very well, despite having a few less lifeguards.
He hopes it will be different in 2022.
“There’s always next year,” he said.
For more information about the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, call 609-263-3655.