It’s That Time to Build a Lifeguard Team

By Wilma Allen

As days get longer and temperatures rise, Fernandina Beach’s Ocean Rescue Division is actively recruiting and training lifeguards for what could be their busiest summer ever.

Beach visitors and rescues have greatly increased in the last three years, says Haynes Cavender, Fernandina Beach Ocean Rescue Lieutenant. A division of the Fernandina Beach Fire Department, Ocean Rescue is responsible for safety on city and county beaches.

Last year, our lifeguards made about 120 rescues, with almost half requiring an ambulance call. On the Fourth of July weekend, which was especially busy, there were 30 rescues in total. Three happened simultaneously on different beaches so all departmental resources were called to action.

Although lifeguards are best known for rescues, their top priority is preventing injury and accidents by advising swimmers of potential hazards. Last year, over 13,000 preventive actions occurred. Lack of knowledge about rip currents is the biggest problem encountered here, Cavender says. So, when lifeguards see swimmers getting too close to rip currents, they approach to warn them. Rip currents are most likely to occur around sandbars, especially when the tide changes, he says.

Even before the season starts, this critical preventive work is underway. For example, last Saturday, in the waning days of winter, Main Beach attracted lots of visitors. As one guard made rounds on an ATV, beachgoers stopped him frequently with questions as he reminded others about the importance of even such things as filling in holes they may have dug in the sand. Beach goers are urged to swim near lifeguard stations and always heed beach condition warning flags. For additional water safety information, Ocean Rescue now has a website where you can check shore conditions before leaving home.

Lifeguards are all certified in first aid and advanced life support. While they once relied primarily on swimming skills and life preservers, today lifeguards always carry rescue cans, which can hold two or three people. Also available are paddleboards, six ATVs, two jet skis, three trucks, and now, even water drones. These are flotation devices that can be dispatched into the surf and operated remotely from the beach. According to Cavender, water drones are used primarily in very dangerous storm conditions.

If this year’s recruitment efforts are successful, Amelia Island’s 13 miles of public beach will have 17 lifeguard stations staffed daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, from May 1 until Labor Day. Five lifeguard supervisors will also be on hand to provide aid and reinforcement.

Having spent four summers as a lifeguard before joining the department full-time six years ago, Cavender knows first-hand how demanding the job can be. And anyone who enjoys the beach knows how reassuring it is to have qualified lifeguards on the job, ready to spring into action.

These are seasonal jobs, so they attract mostly students and physically fit retirees who love to swim, says Cavender. Turnover is high and finding new candidates is an annual challenge. Usually, 10 or so of the new hires return for a second year.

To qualify for beginning lifeguard positions, candidates must be at least 16 years of age; possess high school diplomas, GEDs, or currently be students; and demonstrate their ability to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less, tread water for five minutes, swim 15 yards underwater, and dive and retrieve an object 7-10 feet deep.

They must earn basic life support, CPR, and other first aid certificates, complete a four-week session of Ocean Rescue’s Lifeguard Academy, and demonstrate good people skills. The first Academy is underway; another starts on May 1.

For those seeking up-to-date weather and safety conditions before a beach outing, visit the new website: If interested in becoming a lifeguard, visit




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9 days ago

We should also consider recruiting lifeguard candidates from our local church youth groups and boys/girl scouts

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