By Ruben Lowman
Lifeguards have returned to the city’s nine miles of beach, ready willing and able to make a life-saving rescue mission at a moment’s notice.
As a coastal city, North Myrtle Beach relies on the wonderful work these individuals do on a daily basis to ensure our beaches are safe, as well as fun and relaxing for both residents and visitors.
Giving residents and visitors the security of feeling safe and confidence knowing that they have someone there to help them if they get in trouble is important for the city’s first responders, said NMB Beach Patrol Lance Cpl. Monty Reed.
“The ocean is a completely uncontrollable environment and our staff members are there to help when trouble arises,” Reed said.
Without lifeguards, our local way of life and economy would not be what it is, and the safety of every beachgoer would be far more at risk. Much like the sand dunes are for coastal communities, lifeguards are our natural defense against storms, protecting us when we are most vulnerable and lost at sea.
In 2006, North Myrtle Beach became the first municipality along the Grand Strand to assume complete control of their beach safety when they established NMB Ocean Rescue and brought their lifeguards under city employment. Lifeguards and beach services had previously been run by contracted independent service companies. The city of Myrtle Beach still uses independent contractors to staff and operate their beaches.
With this change, NMB ensured that lifeguards would be able to focus solely on beach safety and ocean rescues, and no longer have a “dual role” where they also rent beach chairs and umbrellas. Reed said the city has a responsibility to protect and keep both its residents and visitors safe.
“The primary role of government is to protect its people,” Reed explained. “The city generates millions of dollars in accommodation tax along with other tax revenue from tourists. It is paramount that we provide a safe environment for all or people will stop visiting.”
NMB Ocean Rescue is entrusted with guarding the beach, administering first aid, performing water rescues and preventative actions, as well as interacting with and educating members of the public. Lifeguards are now trained above and beyond minimum guidelines of the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) and must pass a training academy held by the city. NMB Ocean Rescue is the only USLA-certified agency on the entire Grand Strand.
The lifeguard training academy takes place over the course of a week and has two different sessions. The first will occur between May 8-14, and the second will be held from June 5-11. The weeklong training academy sees future NMB lifeguards progress through different skills each day as they build up the experience and expertise required to serve as a lifeguard in the city.
The academy begins with lifeguards taking the 500-meter swim test, a brick tow and underwater swim, as well as thorough classroom examinations and discussions. They end with missions of pier rescue, mastering rescue board use and a multiple victim response. During the academy, NMB lifeguards also complete and receive certification in CPR, First Aid and AED defibrillator operation.
Reed said North Myrtle Beach is seeking to hire more tower lifeguards to work their 50 towers this summer, as well as supervisor lifeguards and ocean rescue personnel, in order to keep up with increased demand and services as the population of the city and surrounding area rises. Reed said that their main focus has been recruiting at high schools and universities, with the goal to hire individuals who are motivated, coachable and very comfortable on the water.
“A background in swimming, such as swim team or advanced swimming lessons is always a major plus,” Reed said in describing the qualities the patrol is looking for in applicants. “All of our staff members have to be able to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less and new lifeguards attend a training academy that is seven consecutive days.”
Last year, NMB Ocean Rescue had 123 water rescues, 226 missing persons (all were reunited), took 27,855 preventative actions, and assisted with 2,426 medical incidents, according to city data.
With such a high volume, new lifeguards learn a number of skills when they are hired, said Reed, including CPR, advanced first aid, spinal injury management, beach topography and rip current awareness. He said that returning guards participate in a recertification each season before they start work on the beach.
Reed said that the patrol also conducts in-service/PT training three days a week throughout the summer season to keep each members’ skills sharp, conduct team drills and to keep in shape.
“As our area population grows, so does beach attendance,” Reed said. “We will continue to recruit and hire as many qualified applicants as possible.”
Optimal staffing would be near 115 lifeguards, Reed said, and last year they had less than 80 staff members, so they are looking to significantly expand their personnel for this summer.
He said in order to get closer to full staff and recruit more people, they have also increased their pay two years in a row. Starting rate for tower lifeguards is now at $15 to $17 an hour, with supervisor lifeguards earning $17 to $19 an hour, an increase of $3 from 2020. Beach patrol officers earn a starting salary of $43,200.
Mobile lifeguards will be patrolling the beach until next month, when tower and supervisor lifeguards will return, as well. Lifeguards are stationed on the city’s beaches from May through October.