Pilot lifeguard program provides additional services for Carlsbad beaches

CARLSBAD (KUSI) — Starting Friday, the City of Carlsbad will provide lifeguard services on a three-quarters of a mile stretch of previously unguarded beach north of Oak Avenue as part of a pilot program that will run through Labor Day.

The city will also increase police patrols in the area to help ensure beachgoers stay safe and follow the law.

According to Fire Chief Mike Davis, as of this week 17 City of Carlsbad firefighter/paramedics have been certified in ocean water rescue. They will begin patrolling in shifts daily from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., or as conditions warrant, through the Labor Day holiday.

The city is in the process of hiring about two dozen part time seasonal lifeguards to round out the team.

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Since the program is being implemented on a trial basis, no lifeguard towers will be built for the summer season. Lifeguards will utilize a four-wheel drive truck to patrol the beach and will station themselves on the shore at three locations, based on ocean conditions and crowds.

Unlike other beach areas in Carlsbad, the beach from Oak Avenue to the city’s northern border is not managed by California State Parks Department and therefore has limited services.

Davis said prevention will be a big focus on the program and asked beachgoers to remember some important safety tips from the American Red Cross:

  • When at the beach, check conditions before entering the water. See if any warning flags are up or ask a lifeguard about water conditions, beach conditions and any potential hazards
  • Never swim alone
  • Never swim after consuming alcohol, drugs or medication that could impair your functioning
  • Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in and the around water. People should use any other type of floatation device unless they are able to swim
  • Pay especially close attention to children, older people and anyone else who might need extra assistance. Even in shallow water, waves can suddenly sweep you off your feet
  • If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore. If you feel you can’t make it to the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving and calling for help
  • If someone is in trouble in the water, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, call 9-1-1

On Feb. 28, the City Council asked staff to get input from the public and develop a plan to provide lifeguards and increased law enforcement services by summer.

Based on community feedback and research on how other cities have provided these services, city staff presented a proposed pilot program to the City Council at its April 11 meeting.

The pilot program has a budget of $300,000. Each 12 hour shift will include:

  • Two full time Fire Department personnel trained in ocean rescue redeployed from current assignments (those assignments will be covered with existing staff. Overtime costs are part of the budget)
  • Four part time lifeguards

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"We built this pilot program based on what we know today," Fire Chief Mike Davis said. "One of the goals of the pilot program is to gather data on beach usage and conditions so we can return with a recommendation for the long term need after summer."

The beach from Oak Avenue to the northern city limit is not part of the California State Parks system, which includes Carlsbad State Beach from around Pine Avenue South to Terramar and South Carlsbad State Beach from the state campground to the southern city limit.

State lifeguards patrol these areas. In the north, property owners own the beach directly in front of their properties out to what is called the "mean high tide line," which is generally where the water meets the sand during high tide.

The City of Carlsbad maintains public easements on this property, which allow people to utilize the beach and the city to provide services.

In recent years, the number of people using this part of the beach has increased, prompting safety concerns. The City of Carlsbad police and fire departments respond to emergency calls in this area but do not patrol the beach like lifeguards would.

Community members have requested lifeguard services and expressed concerns about law enforcement in the north beach area on and off for years. The city held a public meeting and gathered input online this spring to ensure the pilot program reflected the community’s current priorities.

During annual goal setting sessions the past few years, the Carlsbad City Council has made beach improvements one of its top priorities. City staff are working on a number of projects along the city’s nearly seven miles of coastline, including sprucing up the seven public beach entrances along Ocean Street and making them more visible.

The city has already completed projects to widen bike lanes along Carlsbad Boulevard, improve the accessibility of the Ocean Street public parking lot, put new drought proof landscaping along the beach bluff north of Tamarack to prevent erosion and installed crosswalks with flashing lights to make it safer to cross Carlsbad Boulevard.

Longer term projects include redesigning portions of Carlsbad Boulevard to ease traffic flow, make more room for walking and biking, and maximize access to the coast.

Categories: Local San Diego News