Summer is just around the corner! Memorial Day weekend in Seaside ushers in the season with the return of a welcomed sight that forecasts warm days in the sun: lifeguards patrolling the beach.
Walking the sandy coastline, scanning for danger while perched in guard towers and wading into the water when necessary, lifeguard members of the Seaside Fire & Rescue program help ensure everyone’s fun day at the beach remains just that.
Every summer through Labor Day weekend, they patrol the 3.5 miles of shoreline in Seaside. On busier weekends — including during the Fourth of July and the Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament in August — they beef up their numbers to better accommodate the bigger crowds. “Everyone can feel more assured knowing they’ve got someone else out there in case something happens,” says Seaside Fire & Rescue division chief of operations David Rankin.
Lifeguards do a number of things to promote safety. They keep an eye out for unattended children and make sure campfires stay small. They are trained in water rescue, CPR, and how to scan the beach and ocean. But most of their time is spent talking with beachgoers about how they can avoid needing their help. Every chance they get, lifeguards educate the public about where to safely swim and point out hazardous areas to avoid.
“The things I find myself talking a lot about are rip currents and the sneaker waves,” says Josh Raichl, who is marking his sixth year of working as a Seaside lifeguard. “They’re powerful and they’re hard to get out of. [Rip currents] are like trying to walk on a treadmill that’s set on sprint.”
To help educate people about water conditions on the Oregon Coast, Raichl points out where he’s identified rip tides and explains how sneaker waves have unexpectedly long intervals. He asks people to be aware of their swimming ability and to be mindful of what they’re doing. In many cases, he encourages visitors who want to swim in the ocean to only wade in the water up to their waist — especially if they’re not a strong swimmer.
“It’s not just a pool with waves. There are currents and dropoffs. [For someone inexperienced], it can be really dangerous,” he says. “I’d much rather you never get in trouble than for me to come out and save you, but we’re there for both.”
They’ve Got Your Back in an Emergency
Lifeguards scan the ocean for people who don’t appear comfortable swimming or those who have gone too far out in the ocean. They also keep an eye on anyone who has rented a surfboard and seems out of their league in the powerful water of the Pacific.
“In seconds something can change,” says Raichl, who also works as a firefighter-paramedic in Washington. “But that’s the best thing about being a lifeguard. As a firefighter, you wish you were there 15 minutes earlier, when the problem started. As a lifeguard, you have the ability to influence a situation. You’re there when it’s occurring.”
Chief Rankin praises his team of brave first responders, who are on-site to attend to first aid and medical emergencies prior to firefighters arriving. “It might only be five minutes,” he says, “but that’s five more minutes.”
Beach Safety Tips
While lifeguards do their part, beachgoers play the biggest role in their own safety. Here are some beach safety tips for the Oregon Coast to remember during your visit:
– Consult local tide tables and be aware that high tides can cut off routes and rocks.
– Learn to swim if you don’t already know how, and be realistic with your water abilities.
– Keep a close eye on children and pets.
– Never turn your back on the ocean: It’s the best way to avoid getting swept up in a sneaker wave — powerful waves that seem to come out of nowhere.
– Don’t walk on top of rocks and logs, and avoid small cove beaches, especially during high tides and days with big waves. Powerful water can roll logs or knock you off your feet.
Photos courtesy of Seaside Fire & Rescue