Swim at Your Own Risk

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My good friend Vincent Daniello was spending the day with his family at the beach in Ogunquit, Maine.  It should have been a fun time in the sun and surf, but Vince was finding it very hard to cool off.  Being a conscientious dad, he doesn’t swim at unguarded beaches – especially with his kids (I’m sure) – so he plopped himself down right next to not one, but three of the beaches best guards.  Three must be better than just one, right?  Well, not if what they are paying attention to is each other.

Vince snapped the following photos over a random two minute period.  He tried his best to catch at least one of the lifeguards scanning the water, but just couldn’t do it. On a heavily guarded and crowded beach, at least for a time, no one was watching the water (no one who was paid to watch it anyway.)

It’s not enough to wear a cool “Ocean Rescue” shirt and striking red trunks.  Lifeguards actually have to look at the water and – you know – do their jobs to be of any real value.  So be careful out there – and always remember to assign someone to watch the water.  “Swim at your own risk” can be true no matter where you are or how many lifeguards are ….watching.

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By | 2017-05-18T15:29:50+00:00 July 6th, 2012|NDPA, Risk, Water Safety|14 Comments

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  • Victoria

    This is horrifyingly scary. Given riptides and such, they should not take their eyes off of the water. At our beach in Ocean City, MD, the guards are always on alert. I’m glad nothing happened to the photographers family. I hope the authorities will do something about this.

  • nosaelg

    This is horrifyingly common.

  • Joe Murray


  • Yes – it is.

  • Agreed

  • Not only at beaches but at pools too

  • Unfortunately, I have to confirm this. I was at the beach with my 4 year old and my 18 month old. My littlest was at the edge of the water and I was right behind her. A big wave suddenly came up and I grabbed her so that she wouldn’t be knocked over. I lifted her and was turning to put her down on the beach when my back gave way. I managed to set her down on the sand and then I landed on my hands & knees over her. I was crying out in pain and the two lifeguards were about 15 feet away with their backs to the water, talking to each other and other people. Long story short (too late?) my 4 year old was more help than they were – he brought my toddler back to the stroller. Luckily for me, there were some very nice people who helped me to get my kids & stroller back to the car.
    I have since contacted the people in charge and they seemed suitably shocked & appalled, but could not say what action would be taken. I’m wondering if there is anything more that I can do to change this state of affairs. Any suggestions?

  • I’ve been trying to change it for 15 years – others for much longer. I’m not sure if you could have done more, but maybe you can help with this? http://mariovittone.com/2012/04/the-2012-gap-attention-survey/

  • Former Lifeguard

    I worked as a professional beach lifeguard for more
    than 25 years (in New Zealand, Australia and Japan). I now work in drowning
    prevention and water safety. And I’m afraid I feel the need to stand up for the
    lifeguards on this occasion. A series of photos over a two minute period hardly
    provides an accurate picture of the performance of these lifeguards. You write
    “He tried his best to catch at least one of the lifeguards scanning the water,
    but just couldn’t do it” yet in a number of these photos the lifeguards can be
    clearly seen scanning the water.
    Certainly, effective scanning is critical.
    However, it’s wholly unrealistic to expect a person to sit or stand (for up to
    an hour, sometimes longer) with their eyes perpetually scanning the water. Thanks
    to a great deal of research on this topic, we know it is impossible for a
    person to maintain high levels of vigilance for more than half an hour. In
    addition, the need for lifeguards to maintain high levels of vigilance during a
    repetitive task (scanning) ultimately leads to decreased subjective alertness,
    or an increased likelihood they will miss critical signals (the same reason
    flight controllers miss incidents).
    My experience, and a large body of research,
    has shown that short breaks and a change of scene (such as talking to fellow
    lifeguards) is hugely beneficial for maintaining vigilance. From what I can see
    of these photos, at least one lifeguard is watching the water at all times.
    I’m not trying to justify bad lifeguarding
    behaviour, which certainly occurs. However, I think many people have
    unrealistic expectations of what a lifeguard can achieve. They simply can’t
    catch every incident, all the time. Which is why it’s so important people are
    watching (even better are in the water with) their children while at the beach.
    That’s the only way to guarantee someone is scanning your child 100% of the

  • H – You are right about the 30 minutes, which is why having beach lifeguards sit in the chair – responsible for a particular stretch of crowded beach – for “an hour and sometimes more” is a poor guard management decision. Like you said – it can’t be done. I’m on your side, there should be more guards, not less. But I’m sorry – these guys were less than vigilant, and I am sure that three of them in the same stand is a complete waste.

  • Former Lifeguard

    I tried replying to this earlier and it didn’t seem to appear, so my apologies if I double-post. I appreciate your feedback. I’m a fan of your website and the incredible water safety education work you do. I agree, if a beach has limited resources, having three guards on one tower may not be a good idea. I’d note that the US and places such as Australia or the UK have quite different systems of lifeguarding.
    While in New Zealand, Australia and the UK you frequently have groups of guards (often two or three) working together at a station or as roaming patrols, in the US you tend to have guards posted alone on fixed towers. Which is the better system is debatable – personally, I think having more than one guard on a tower is preferable. This is because it allows for guards to cover each other (e.g. during rescues, first aids or while answering public enquires), and also to keep each other motivated.

  • Ted

    Straight out of the USLA manual… “Lifeguards should go to great lengths to avoid turning their backs on the water, even when tasked with other duties.” At least look like you’re watching!!!

  • jason

    I don’t know if you are deleting my posts or what, but if so it only shows you have an agenda here other than “water safety”

  • Jack

    Learn water safety. You are responsible for yourself and your own children. Public safety has saved many lives from drowning but It is your responsibility to understand safe water conditions, and there are MORE than enough resources out there. Educate yourself and stop blaming those trying to help, for your own ignornance.