Lifeguards will stand watch over beaches this weekend, adjust schedules next week

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A Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue ATV in front of Lifeguard Stand 19 by the Boardwalk, one of the busiest access points in Carolina Beach.
A Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue ATV in front of Lifeguard Stand 19 by the Boardwalk, one of the busiest access points in Carolina Beach. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

Labor Day marks the last weekend of the summer beach season, and all the local ocean rescue teams will be fully staffed for it despite some forecasts for rain.

“It definitely depends on the weather,” said Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Director Dave Baker.

Labor Day weekend crowds usually are as big as the ones for Memorial Day, Baker said, but they’re still busier than normal weekends. He said everyone on staff will be working and all 13 lifeguard stands along the 4.5-mile stretch of beach will be full.

“We are comfortable in that all lifeguard stands will be manned,” Baker said.

Down on Pleasure Island, they are also preparing for larger-than-normal crowds.

“We’re hoping to have a good turnout, hoping the weather holds out,” said Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue Supervisor Simon Sanders, who said 22 lifeguards will be rotating over the weekend to cover 20 stands over three miles of beach. “Everybody that is available to work will be working.”

“We’re anticipating a full staff on the weekend as usual,” said Daniel Russell, the Kure Beach ocean rescue supervisor, who said he’ll have 13-15 guys working this weekend to cover 10 stands on less than three miles of sand.

Russell said he’s not sure what kind of crowd to expect after the ups and downs of the season.

“We had a really busy Memorial Day, but then we had one of the slackest 4th of Julys that I’ve ever seen in all my years working on this island,” Russell said.

As the smallest of the beaches, Kure Beach is not scheduling active lifeguards at the beach after Monday.

“It’s a done deal,” said Russell, who added that some ocean rescue team members could be called in on busy weekends on an “as-needed basis.” All subsequent ocean rescue calls made to 911 would go directly to the Kure Beach Fire Department, which runs the ocean rescue team.

Up the road in Carolina Beach, they will begin to go into “reactive” mode after Labor Day. According to Sanders, they will have a few lifeguards on staff throughout the week to watch the busiest areas (Freeman Park, the Boardwalk area and the south end), patrol the beach and move equipment back into storage for the fall and winter months.

“We want to transition smoothly into the off season,” Sanders said. “It’s always a delicate balance [schedule-wise] at the end of the year.”

He said Sept. 12 – 13 will be the last weekend there will be ocean rescue team members out on the beach. After that, all rescue calls will go to the Carolina Beach Fire Department.

“We just don’t see the beach population justifying it,” Sanders said of having active lifeguards going into October.

It’s a different case further north in Wrightsville Beach, the largest and busiest of the area’s beaches. According to Ocean Rescue Director Baker, they’ll go into “fall guarding.”

“We’ll have some of the major access points covered,” Baker said.

Jeremy Owens, the Wrightsville Beach lifeguard captain, said two stations, Stand 6 at Johnny Mercer’s Pier and Stand 8 at Stone Street, will be manned every day through the month of September.

“Those are by far our busiest stands,” he said.

On the weekends, Owens said Stand 3 by Holiday Inn and Stand 12 by Crystal Pier on the south end will also have guards. The Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Team will also have two ATVs out patrolling the beach during the week and three on the weekends.

In October, they’ll switch to roving patrols only, with two trucks or ATVs going up and down the beach to make sure everyone is safe. From Nov. 1 until April 1, all 911 calls will go to one of the full-time firefighters on staff.

“We still run ocean rescue calls through the winter, but we don’t stay out all day,” said Owens.

“We still have people capable of doing water and medical rescue,” Baker emphasized.

While the three beach towns have different post-Labor Day plans, they all want beachgoers to know that the departments will do their best to keep them safe. They also encourage everyone to responsibly enjoy the last days of the season.

“We just want people to stay within their limitations, wear sunscreen, pick up their trash, leave the beach cleaner than they found it and enjoy the last week of their summer,” said Baker.