Judging from crowds at East Beach in recent days, Glynn County lifeguards expect the Memorial Day weekend to rival or exceed the Fourth of July on St. Simons Island.
With big crowds come a big risk of injury or drowning. Lifeguards will be on-hand starting today to try to prevent both cases, but there’s only so many of them.
There are some things the public can do to make their jobs easier.
“I would say come prepared,” said Cara Kelsch, chief lifeguard.
Bring Bandaids in case of cuts or jellyfish stings and water to prevent dehydration, she said. Simple first-aid issues like that are much more common occurrences for lifeguards.
“We were fortunate last year that we didn’t have many big incidents, just jellyfish stings and things like that,” said Shawn Lentini, county beach manager. “If that’s our biggest thing, we’ll take it.”
He encourages parents to put lifejackets on children who go out into the water in inflatable boats or similar floats.
Beachgoers who find themselves too far from shore or caught in a rip current should call for help but avoid waving arms or doing anything else that could cause them to submerge, fellow chief lifeguard Michael Pendarvis advises.
Simply floating on one’s back while calling for help is enough, he said, because lifeguards will be focused on watching the water and listening for distress cries.
Such issues can be avoided completely by studying up on current warnings in advance. If a rip tide advisory is in effect, be cautious. Look for colored flags flying at beach accesses, which give an idea of the conditions in the water that day.
Beachgoers will also have to adhere to state-mandated social distancing measures and the ban on gatherings in excess of 10 people unless distanced.
“Obviously, unless it’s a dire emergency, try to maintain a six-foot distance,” Lentini said.
As a consequence of their job, lifeguards can’t take many of the same measures.
“We’re not at liberty to wear a mask because you never know when you’ll need to go in,” Lentini said.
Lifeguards will not be enforcing those rules, but the state Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia State Patrol will be on St. Simons and Jekyll islands looking out for offenders.
The most important thing one can do is listen to lifeguards.
“We’re not there to spoil any fun. We’re there to keep them safe,” Lentini said. “Our beaches are wonderful. For those of age to drink, they’re allowed to.”
From today through Labor Day, lifeguards will be on the St. Simons Island beach from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day.
The county has 11 lifeguards on staff, much fewer than usual, and looking for more. To apply, visit glynncounty.org and navigate to the “available jobs” section.