We can argue the logistics behind where and how to pin the blame on external factors beyond control of the Ocean Rescue Department; the seas, the innertubes, the lack of swimming ability, etc; but there will always be accidents. Gifted swimmers have gone under to rip currents or aspirated water due to unpredictable chop. But it is Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue’s responsibility to be fully prepared for such and practicing preventative lifeguarding at all times. What this comes down to seems to be an administrative lapse. In previous years on Carolina Beach I have seen lifeguard stands double sat most of the time (even on cloudy days it seemed there would be at least one guard on every busy stand and several ATVs patrolling). On this given Sunday, there were, as I've been told and have read, five remaining guards after the rest of the squad were sent home. Weather in Carolina Beach is unpredictable and subject to frequent change. The sun can emerge during a cloudy or stormy day at any time, followed by a subsequent rush of beach patrons. We've seen it hundreds of times through the years. Tourists will brave cloudy skies to get their money's worth of their limited vacation time on the beach. I will not say that this would have been avoided had the beach been fully staffed, but I am saying that there would have been a much better chance had the central beach strand been double sat with adequate ATV coverage and that the Ocean Rescue administrative roles would be less accountable. It is common practice for lifeguards to count the number of people on a raft and to keep an eye on them, even entering the water if one goes missing or the raft gets too far out. There had to have been signs of distress once one of the men fell off. Rafts are red flags to experienced life guards - especially in areas with a high propensity for rip currents and with people on them that are obviously not locals. Which brings me to my next concern. The past few years I have seen and spoken to the same experienced guards on ATVs and at busy stands. This year it seems like a bunch of brand new high schoolers, who appear much less certain and poised than in previous years, are on the four-wheelers. Perhaps the older guards have moved on and this is an issue of limited staffing, but it also begs the question of who is in charge? The same person who sent them all home? Surely the budget is allowing for a fully staffed beach on weekends, given the shiny new blue ATVs, the new stands, and the new vehicles I have seen on Freeman Park. I think that this drowning should be a wakeup call for the town management and the ocean rescue department as a whole. Action should be taken. What is to happen in the event of a lawsuit? If the town can't afford to pay the guards to stay on the beach on a Sunday, how are they to compensate the grievances of a family missing a son and a brother?
In previous years, drownings have been attributed to missing appendages, aneurisms, heart attacks, and the fact that no guards were staffed on Freeman Park at the time. On each of these occasions (save Freeman Park, which we cannot hold CBOR accountable for), guards were present and adequate coverage was provided. But Mother Nature and her oceans are unforgiving and indiscriminate, and some things just cannot be prevented and mistakes are made. In this case, I feel that there were not enough guards present for any to make a mistake, and those in charge at Carolina Beach should have known to keep the beach much more sufficiently staffed. I pray for the unfortunate lifeguards who were involved in locating the body and who had to witness this event. I pray also for the victim and his family and friends. God bless you all, and may this be the last serious incident in Carolina Beach. Hopefully we can learn from this.
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