A Day in the Life of a Lifeguard

The Crew (TOS West)

Most of us at Cortland are lucky enough to spend our summers basking in the summer sun, walking barefoot in the sand and being first-hand witnesses to some of the most spectacular sunsets.

For some of us, we live close enough to the beach where we spend our summers working at beach clubs, as wait staff, or for the brave, the lifeguards.

Many people see the ocean as a scary place and be that as it may, it is.

You should be scared of the ocean.

You can never trust the ocean, not even as a lifeguard. You have to trust in yourself to be able to do your job day in and day out.

This thought is terrifying, especially considering as a lifeguard I am saying I am scared of the ocean. But, this does not mean that I am scared to do my job regardless of what the ocean may look like on a given day. There is never one day working at the beach that is the same as the last. You go through the same routine on a daily basis, but be prepared to always be surprised. 

Here is what a typical day working at the beach looks like:

9:45 am: Arrive, clock in and sign in, in the lifeguard room.

10:00 am: Drive the mule down to the beach — unload, set up. Here we dig in the swimming flags, we dig the mound that we are famous for gloriously jumping into when that double whistle goes off. Then we clean the beach of its garbage and begin our mandatory workouts.

Post Workout!

These can be rigorous at times, but it allows our patrons to see what we are capable of and ensures them that we are in the best shape. Workouts are different every day. They vary from mock rescues to mile distance swims.

Once our set up and workout is complete (usually around 10:45), we begin our sit schedule for the day.

Our sit schedule rotates in order of seniority. Guards with the most years under their belt sit later in the day and sit less frequently than a rookie does. On any given day at our most popular beach, we will have three lifeguard stands, which also correlates directly to how many guards are on duty.

It can get overwhelming at times keeping track of where you are sitting. Once it is time, you climb your assigned stand where you will watch the water, scanning from right to left and left to right, for 30 minutes.

Now, 30 minutes may not seem like a long time, but as rookies and as friends, we often give courtesy sits. What is a courtesy sit you ask? Well, when your 30 minutes on the stand has expired and the next lifeguard climbs up, you would stay on the stand with the new guard anywhere from 15 minutes to their entire shift.

So, on the day goes rotating in and out of your schedule.

On our off time, which we still get paid for, we have the freedom to do as we please. We can exercise, we can surf, we can swim, we can relax, read a book, eat our lunch, or play games. It’s the beach, the options are endless.

More often than not, we have days where we may not go on a single rescue. Those days drag on and seem to last for weeks at a time.

As cruel as it sounds, we long for the days where we don’t have the luxury of lounging in the area, the days when it is double whistle after double whistle. After all, that is what we are there for, isn’t it?

In the case of a rescue, there is always one person at each stand at all times making sure everyone else in the water is still safe. For those who are not on the stands, it is your time to shine. You hop off the stand and you run for the torp (flotation device), and someone is following right behind, swimming out the line allowing for your safe return to shore. While one of us has the responsibility of pulling the victim and two guards to shore, the other guards are there for crowd management. That rush of adrenaline and the sound of people applauding your rescue is unbeatable, and it’s something I crave for in the winters.

We officially start to clean up at 4:30 pm. We collect the “no umbrellas past this point” signs, and the signs prohibiting swimming beyond a certain point, we tie the rescue boards and surfboards back on top of the mule and head up the beach.

It’s 4:55 pm, the end of the last sit, we blow the horn signaling the lifeguards are now off duty — swim at your own risk. The patrons must exit the water until we are clear of the beach.

It has been a long day, but a good one at that.

2 Comments

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