East End residents and visitors are beginning their annual migration to the water, and John Ryan Jr., chief lifeguard for the Town of East Hampton, said this summer there will be more eyes on the beach.
New this year is a Lifeguard Cadet Program for 15-year-olds. It prepares lifeguard-hopefuls who graduate from the Junior Lifeguard Program and want to apply to become a town lifeguard when they turn 16. The goal is to get the cadets up to speed on rescue techniques and to build up their endurance enough to know they could pass the certification test at age 16.
The two-month course and training program is more intensive than the town’s Junior Lifeguard Program, which teaches children age 9 through 14 water safety and ocean awareness, how to get in and out of the break safely and helps them overcome the fear of being in the surf. Lifeguard wannabes in the Cadet Program will learn the ropes by doing daily workouts, the “grunt work” of a lifeguarding job, and most important by aiding lifeguards on the job, according to John McGeehan, the town’s assistant chief of lifeguards.
“It’s an apprentice program,” he said. “It would enable us to continue to train those youngsters who are definitely heading toward lifeguarding and keep a hook in them and not lose them.”
Mr. McGeehan said the experience would provide on-site training but in a limited away. They could participate in a save but they wouldn’t be sent out into the ocean alone. All cadets would be CPR certified, too, as they would be if they were working a pool or on the bay beaches.
Mr. Ryan said the 15-year-olds would set up for swims, do mock rescues, mock emergency medical service calls, learn how to keep records of events at the beach and prepare the beaches for visitors.
In August the cadets will take the cold water test, which is an endurance test “not for the weak of heart,” Mr. Ryan said. “They have to be strong swimmers and strong individuals to be pulling people out of the water on their own while pack-strap carrying or double arming a victim,” he said. “They could be 100 pounds heavier than you. It can be the luck of the draw when you get a victim.”
Obviously, people who choose to swim in the water should know how to swim and how to get out of a dangerous situation, but when that isn’t enough, East Hampton Town lifeguards know the drill.
The lifeguards in training will reinforce their knowledge of escaping a rip current, which causes the most problems each summer, according to Mr. Ryan.
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of beach rescues are attributed to rip currents, and more than 100 people die annually from drowning in rip currents.
Rip currents can pull swimmers out past the break, causing many victims to panic. Once a person panics, there’s not much time left, he said. Instead, swimmers and lifeguards should keep breathing and swim parallel to the shore until they get out of the rip.
Each year, the town hires about 70 lifeguards, but in August a number of them leave to return to college. That leaves the program with a smaller staff to cover the beaches. Having cadets who turn 16 before the summer is over and pass the certification test in August would be helpful, Mr. Ryan said.
The program starts at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett on Saturday, June 21, and costs $80.
Cadets must be 15 years old by July 1 or still 16 before August 15. Each cadet must have two years of experience in a junior lifeguarding program or have working knowledge of the ocean. It’s recommended that they have Suffolk County Stillwater or American Red Cross Lifeguard certification.
Approximately 10 to 15 kids are expected to join each season, according to Mr. McGeehan.
“It is a good program,” Mr. McGeehan said. “Time will tell if it fits our needs here, but I suspect that it will. We get beach rats that have aged out at age 14, they’ve done everything they can and are hanging around the lifeguard towers. They learn a lot by being around the lifeguards and even participate in workouts. This certainly has great potential.”
Registration with a parent will be available at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett on weekends thorough June 15, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.