By T.L. Grace West
While I sat on the lifeguard stand interviewing our two supervising lifeguards, I was impressed with their vigilance–their eyes constantly scanning the water and the beach.
In addition to water rescues, Max Johnson and Mike Fox-Moles, supervising lifeguards, are constantly on the lookout for medical problems: heart failure, hypothermia, exhaustion of any kind, anaphylaxis and much more than can be listed here.
Lifeguards are on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“Brutal and rigorous” both said about their training, which includes ocean knowledge, rescue training, intense physical, mental and medical training and on-going in-service trainings through
Duck Surf Rescue Agency (United States Lifesaving Association certified), with whom the NPS has contracted for the last six years.
According to Michael Barber, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service, over the last eight years there have been seven water fatalities on Ocracoke (the last one was in 2017)—all owing to rip currents elsewhere on the island other than the Lifeguard Beach.
So far in 2019, the National Weather Service says there have been seven rip current-related deaths in North Carolina and 28 nationwide.
They take their job of protecting lives seriously.
“We are more than happy to teach you how to identify rip currents,” Michael said. “Just ask.”
Points to remember:
- When they post “No Swimming” flags they cannot force you to stay out, but they also don’t have to go in if they feel they couldn’t survive the rescue.
- Likewise, with thunderstorms: It is dangerous to be on the beach in any sense. Lightning picks the highest, most reactive target–You. Guards may retreat to their truck or leave the beach if they believe they are in harm’s way.
- Sharks: “We are watchful but not very concerned,” Mike said. “Most often, sharks are not a danger to people.” If they have any concern about the proximity of a shark, they will immediately clear the water and rescue anyone in danger. According to Dr. Beach: the biggest danger on any beach is rip currents.
- Panic while in a rip current is the predominate danger, Max and Michael both agreed. (See page 3 for rip current information.) Rip currents never look the same from day to day. It is imperative that you learn about rip currents and have a plan before you find yourself in a rip current, they said. Mike said that the rip current that had been in front of the lifeguard stand for the last three years is no longer there, but there is one farther east, outside the flag area, that they keep their eyes on.
- Flotation devices: They stress that swimmers should always bring a floatation device as it can save your life if you are in trouble in the water.
- It is vital to carry one with you at all times if you go out to help someone else. A boogie board is ideal since it can attach to you. “Far too many people drown trying to save someone else,” Mike said.
Safeswimmer.com has a bright orange inflatable buoy that attaches to your waist or chest and can be seen from afar.
Even though I am an experienced and strong open water swimmer, I always wear this device for visibility, floatation and the unlikely possibility that I may need to wait for help.
Ocracoke lifeguards stay in communication by radio and cell phones with all the law enforcement and emergency groups on Ocracoke.
Their vehicle, parked alongside their stand, is equipped with all manner of first aid equipment and the EMS response time to the lifeguard beach is less than five minutes.
Whenever I see the lifeguards on duty, I always thank them for being here, and sometimes drop off some homemade cookies.
Last week, Max Johnson and Logan Beal were guests on WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station, talking beach safety and spinning some of their favorite songs. The show will be rebroadcast on Friday, Jul. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m., 90.1 FM and online at wovv.rocks.
These are young people of passion and responsibility.
“Be safe; be wise; be careful; listen to your guards; know your limits; and always, always, always, swim where there’s a lifeguard,” they said. “They might just save your life.”