The first beach rescue of the long Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City occurred at 9:58 a.m. on Saturday — technically two minutes before the first lifeguard shift of the summer began but, luckily, after a few men and women in red had arrived to start their day.
By midday, there had already been a couple of other rescues but nothing too serious, said Capt. Butch Arbin, head of the Ocean City Beach Patrol. By the end of the summer, he said, there will have been 2,000 to 4,000 more, depending on how strong the riptides are this year.
“We're one of the largest and busiest beach patrols in the entire world,” Arbin said early afternoon Saturday, the first day of his 47th season with the beach patrol.
Hundreds of thousands of people throng to Ocean City every year for the holiday weekend, which serves as the traditional start of summer. Saturday is also the first day of beach patrols for the town’s army of lifeguards. Rookies get a crash course of field training, while old hands return to their familiar perches above the sand.
Arbin said he needs 126 lifeguards to man all 76 stands on the town’s 10 miles of shoreline, accounting for days off and lunch breaks, and he had 127 lifeguards return this year after having served during a past season.
Still, the rookies come in handy. They will man stands so veteran lifeguards can go out on the patrol boat, ride ATVs or work with the junior beach patrol, Arbin said.
One class of newcomers has already been trained, and another is soon to be. (In fact, there’s still time to sign up to take the test over at www.ococean.com/ocbp.)
Arbin said many of his lifeguards come from elsewhere in the state. Some are student-athletes and others are professionals who only spend their summers on the sand — including teachers from the surrounding region. Arbin himself works for Charles County Public Schools, at the James E. Richmond Science Center.
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Arbin said a lot of younger, college-age kids these days aren’t in the best of shape and can’t pass the physical fitness tests — making his veterans all the more crucial.
He said Memorial Day weekend is very busy, but there is one blessing for the lifeguards. The water isn’t too warm yet — just 58 degrees Saturday — so people don’t spend quite as much time in the water as they do toward the end of the summer.
But if they are on the beach, the lifeguards will be watching, he said — and beach-goers should say hello.