As the sun touches the horizon, a stiff wind pushes spray off the peaks, causing them to take on a copper tone. A lone jet ski churns through the choppy water searching for a missing swimmer, as we attempt to locate what may be a missing swimmer, pelican, piece of wood, or a float being pushed out by the offshore wind.
This is a scenario that plays itself out multiple times each year. Often, we don’t have confirmation from anyone on the shore who is missing anyone, no unoccupied vehicles near the scene, and no indication that anyone left articles on the beach before going out for a dip.
The judgement required to make the appropriate decisions about when to continue searching into the night, discontinue the search, or modify the search using different resources is very sophisticated and requires both experience and critical thinking skills. We always err on the side of caution when human lives are potentially at stake, but we also must consider the human and equipment resources at our disposal.
Evening calls are particularly difficult because we rely so heavily on jet skis. Our staff is highly trained on them, and we have them deployed all over the island. They’re powerhouses in surf, have a very shallow draft for the many shallow bay calls, and can be beach launched. But as versatile as they are, by law they can’t run at night. Night calls can be more technical as well, requiring GPS, depth gauge, both running and spotlights, and at times radar. For this we need a proper boat, which requires quite a bit of additional training.
Each rescue truck is driven by a supervisor, who is certified as a “Personal Rescue Watercraft (PRWC) Operator. All our “wet seats”, mostly comprised of Senior Lifeguards, are certified as “PRWC Rescuers”, which means every truck has a jet ski rescue team on board. These could be full time or seasonal employees, although almost all our supervisors work full time. But because of the training time required to competently operate the boat, only our full-time employees operate our 22-foot rigid hull inflatable boat, which is very similar to the ones the Coast Guard uses. So, in the scenario we opened with, if we needed to continue the search into the night, we’d have to get our boat launched somewhere with a proper boat ramp and get staff on board who were trained in boat operations. Hard to do if it’s a busy summer weekend with several emergencies happening at once.
Recently we purchased a piece of equipment that will help fill this gap. This new watercraft has a rigid hull with inflatable sides and a cut out in the back for a jet ski to fit. Once the jet ski is secure, it becomes the engine. It drives, handles like, and requires the training time of a jet ski. It also has the advantages of a 20-foot boat, while still operating in less than a foot of water.
Adaptable solutions providing for a quick rescue response.