Lifeguards boost staffing for season

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Keeping visitors safe is the number one priority for lifeguards on Grand Strand beaches, and this year there will be about 190 sets of eyes watching the beaches to prevent problems and keep people out of trouble.

"You can't be too safe right?" commented Debbie Fink of Johnson City, TN, who was visiting North Myrtle Beach Wednesday.

She said that is especially true with her family at the beach.

However, not every member of the family was thinking about safety.

"It's so relaxing," said Gretchen Jones. "You can just be yourself and leave the worries of home and the stresses of work behind."

Jones said she does not really think about the lifeguards when she is at the beach, but Fink said she does notice them. She said lifeguards were not nearby when someone in her family died years ago.

"I had a family member actually drown in a rip tide situation," she said.

So she is glad to hear that, as more people head to the beach, so do more lifeguards.

From North Myrtle Beach to Garden City approximately 190 lifeguard towers will be manned this summer.

"It's not like I go to the beach because they're there, but the fact that they're there makes me feel a little more safe," Fink said.

In Myrtle Beach, the lifeguard services will be at full capacity with 75 lifeguard stands manned daily beginning June 2. They will remain at full capacity until through the second week of August. Fewer lifeguards are on duty from April 15 to September 30 each year in the city.

On beaches in Horry County, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach it will take a few more weeks for all lifeguard towers to be manned with lifeguards.

Right now in North Myrtle Beach about 30 lifeguard towers are manned. At full capacity, there will be 54 towers with lifeguards.

"We play that by ear as the crowd goes and so forth at the beginning of the season," explained Captain Guy Johnson with North Myrtle Beach Public Safety.

He said the beach services employees have spend the last several weeks gearing up for the season. The guards now have new towers to sit in that are much higher than the old ones. The towers were built with donated lumber from Home Depot, and they will allow the lifeguards to see the ocean and beach better than previous years. The towers also have new orange umbrellas so people can see them better.

"[We've been] making sure everything is operable and ready to go," Johnson said.

In addition to watching for swimmers in trouble, Johnson said lifeguards also watch for other problems.

The top problems include glass, alcohol or unapproved flotation devices that are not allowed on the beach. You will also want to be sure your tent or umbrella is in the right place, so check with a lifeguard if you need to Johnson said. Also, do not go further than chest deep in the water because a lifeguard will have to call you closer to shore.

"It's to have the guards so they can get to you if you do have trouble,"' Johnson said.

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