Beaches face annual end-of-summer lifeguard shortage
It is a yearly issue for beach patrols up and down the shore as students head back to college.
Towns often face lifeguard staffing shortages during the last part of the beach season through Labor Day.
Seaside Park Beach Patrol Captain Mike Veracierta said this year is even more difficult. That is because Labor Day falls later than usual on Sept. 7.
"It's always an issue, but I'd say this year is probably the worst for most beaches," Veracierta said.
He combats the shortages by over-staffing whenever he can and hiring some part-time lifeguards from past years, who can cover some of the late summer shifts.
His biggest concern is the week leading into the holiday weekend when he faces an estimated staff reduction from the usual 50-55 lifeguards down to just 15.
"That sometimes forces us to close down a couple of beaches, sometimes man the stands with one man - a one-man stand," Veracierta said. "September first, second, third. That whole week, Monday through Friday, is the witching hour. That's going to be tough."
Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol Captain Randy Townsend is always searching for guards who can work late in the summer. He often hires teachers, local kids and former full-time lifeguards.
"We pretty much lose, I wanna say, 50 percent of our staff prior to the start of the holiday weekend, Labor Day," Townsend said. "We'll have to tweak our program, so to speak, a little bit. I do not plan on having any closures at this moment."
While the reduced late summer staff is concerning enough, the unpredictability of the ocean adds another variable for beach patrols to contend with. It is why Veracierta is most concerned about that particular week.
"We're kind of at the mercy of the water," Veracierta said. "If it rains or it's a real calm, calm week, then we are in really good shape. If it's bad and it's ripping, that poses a lot of problems."
Townsend said vacationers, residents and visitors need to be aware of the conditions.
"If they are unaware or feel unsafe, by any means at all whatsoever, they should definitely swim near a lifeguard," Townsend said.
Both captains said the safety of the beach-goers is the number one priority. They stressed the importance of making good decisions and avoiding swimming in unguarded sections of the ocean.