October is my favorite month on the beach. As usual, we’ve been experiencing some amazing beach weather. A number of people have been out enjoying Galveston’s 33 miles of beach on the weekdays in small groups or solo and weekends will still be crowded for a couple of months. Our staff has remained focused, moving swimmers away from the deep holes and rip currents by the jetties and making the occasional rescue.
There are clearly more beach patrons using the “shoulder season” on the beach now-a-days and it’s likely due to a combination of warming trends, the growing population around Houston, and Visit Galveston and local businesses’ work to promote tourism. It seems our beach season now stretches from the end of February all the way to December. It’s not at all unusual to have a nice sunny weekend in November with many swimmers in the water.
This is the last weekend for our seasonal lifeguards. As “seasonal workers,” we are only permitted to employ them for 7 months. After this Sunday we’ll be covering all 33 miles of beach with two or three vehicles each day.
Beach Patrol’s target number of lifeguards is around 145 and 12 of the guards are full-time, year-round employees. This means that when fully staffed during the summer months on a normal weekend we are able staff 32 lifeguard towers, 7 trucks, 3 UTV’s, and a boat in the water. Even with that, we sometimes struggle to stay on top of the volume of calls and need every bit of help we get from our partners with Park Security, Police, Fire, EMS, park staff, and others.
Starting Oct. 11 until March, we’ll be operating using just our year-round staff, with some help from our volunteer “Wave Watchers”. These same staff members will rotate to cover “call”, meaning that someone will be available for emergencies, day or night, all winter.
If you observe one of our tower lifeguards for a summer day on the Seawall, you’ll see them repeatedly moving swimmers away from rip currents by the rocks. These preventative actions keep swimmers out of danger and keep our guards from having to make rescues that are extremely risky to victim and rescuer alike. When combining tower and truck work, we make between 300-500,000 preventative actions annually.
Working in a mobile vehicle is another story. We do the best we can to get to swimmers before they get in trouble, but we’re spread thin and covering a lot of ground, so its less proactive and we end up making many more challenging rescues.
At some point down the road, we’ll need to address increasing our capabilities as the shoulder season grows, but for now, we’ve got it. As the “season” closes, we’re looking forward to spending more quality time with residents, catching up on maintenance, training, and doing administrative work, especially once things cool down in December. I think our lifeguards and all islanders need that down time to recharge for next season! Thanks to everyone for their continued support.