The blog post below was submitted by Ms. Kelly Keefe, Ocean City Beach Patrol and Howard County Public School System teacher:
This might come as a surprise to you, but one of the most important skills a lifeguard uses is the scan. They are constantly scanning their area and the water in front of them for signs of danger. Their area includes a 360 degree area around their stand not only in the front but also in the back to the dune line. This is the time of the year when trouble could be festering behind their stands. It's what some refer to as the "June Bugs". It's a tradition thousands of graduates participate in each year; the trek to Ocean City to enjoy their new-found freedom. The typical graduates are full of confidence, and feel immune to any dangers, they sometimes allow the excitement of the atmosphere to impede their judgment enough to get them into trouble. When we get a warm sunny day, the water temperatures are inviting. If you add a town full of celebrating graduates to the mix, the lifeguards have their work cut out for them.
At no other time of year do we see more teenagers chase each other down the beach and into the ocean only to end up diving into shallow water. The more experienced among them dive shallow and usually do not suffer any consequences of this risky behavior. The less fortunate will spend the rest of their vacation trying to explain the scabs on their forehead and nose. The really unfortunate will not be able to run, dive, or walk ever again. While beach patrol members respond to spinal injuries every year, none are more tragic than those that occur when young people are injured from diving into shallow water. It is not their age so much, but the fact that these injuries are so preventable that makes them particularly tragic.
Beach patrol "Rule Number One" is: Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard's in the stand. "Rule Number Two" is: Check the water depth with your feet, not your head. Our ocean water is not as clear as pool water, and we don't have the depth printed along the edge in big black numbers like it is at the local swim club.
While lifeguards try to stop accidents before they happen, even whistle blasts sometimes don't catch the attention of those who are horsing around and chasing each other. Surf rescue technicians are often left cringing in their stands, hoping that those who just dove into the foot-deep water will pop up unscathed. This is usually followed by what we call an impromptu beach safety presentation (EDU - the semaphore abbreviation for education) as the closest lifeguard explains the dangers of their actions. While 40 percent of spinal injuries occurring in the surf are caused by people diving into shallow water, the majority result from body surfers and body boarders riding waves that are breaking too close to shore. We encourage people to keep their arms stretched out in front of them when body surfing, and to avoid riding waves that are breaking close to the sandbar or beach. We hope that everyone who visits our beach will enjoy many happy, healthy returns.
An additional factor that has a major influence on risky behavior both on the beach and throughout Ocean City is the addition of alcohol to celebrating teenagers. These recent graduates have worked their entire school careers to achieve this new found freedom, and we do not want that freedom to end in Ocean City. Graduates, remember to 'Play it Safe!'