Staffing Difficulties

Staffing has been a real issue for us on the Beach Patrol for about three years now. At full strength, we run 135 Seasonal Lifeguards, in addition to the 15 full and part time employees we have. Our seasonal numbers have been more along the lines of 100-110.

When we’re short handed we still do our best to cover the beach. Guards pull longer hours, and/or we cancel morning training sessions, and some guards pick up additional shifts. Full time staff are also tasked with working lifeguard towers and we run fewer vehicles. Of course, there is a price for all of this.

I’ve come to think of the Beach Patrol as a living entity. When taxed, it compensates up to a point. When you’re hot, sweating helps maintain healthy temperature for a while. When really cold, your body will naturally shunt all the blood away from the extremities to the important parts (head and core) in order to protect your brain and vital functions. Your body does something similar for extreme injuries or illnesses when it goes into shock. So, the living entity of Beach Patrol has a built-in resiliency for emergencies like staffing shortages or lack of resources. These tricks work for a while but going into these modes of operation is not sustainable.  Eventually you pay the price for these measures in the form of staff burnout, lack of employee satisfaction, reduced staff retention, less reliability in attendance, loss of focus, etc.

This year has been a rough one on a variety of fronts. When Covid hit the hotels suffered tremendously. Since we operate exclusively off of hotel tax money, we took a proportional hit. We’ve already been struggling with meeting our number of guards in a part of the country where we don’t have huge amounts of swimmers to draw from, but we were looking at cutting the number of guards even more. Additionally, we lost our J1 Visa Cultural Exchange Visa foreign lifeguards because the program was suspended. We’ve been using these workers to close the employee deficit gap for a few years now with great success. And the crowds this summer are bigger than ever.

We were saved this year by two factors and have been consistently covering all of our 32 towers on the weekends. Our board wisely allowed us to use some reserve monies to allow us to hire enough guards. Additionally and unexpectedly, a number of older guards, who would have been working part time or not at all, were not able to work other jobs or internships which were cancelled because of Covid. That was a big help. Because many are not going off to school they’re still out on the beach taking care of beachgoers.

As we go through budgeting options for next year it looks like another challenging year is in store. I do, however, feel confident that our board, administrative staff, and we on the front lines will do whatever we can to ensure people are safe when they visit Galveston’s beaches.


Spring break Sand

If you’ve braved the seawall during Spring Break you’ve seen the beach getting bigger and bigger. It seems like every time I drive by they’ve made real progress. What a great deal for Galveston!

There will be a re-adjustment period as the sand settles into a natural state. The grain size of sand determines its slope. Beaches with big grains have a pretty severe inclination and those with smaller grains drop off more gradually. So those beaches you go to on the upper east coast or most places out west that have a big shore break (large waves breaking very close to the beach) would have big, chunky grains of sand. We have a fairly small grain size so it’s understandable that someone 20 yards from shore could be in waist deep water. This will also affect what occurs a short time after the new sand is placed. As the grains form a sort of lattice the beach goes from fairly level to having more of a slope. Most of the sand will still be there but the shoreline will appear to move closer to the seawall, then stabilize.

This new sand affects surfing slightly and has a fairly significant, though temporary, impact on water safety. Most of this is due to it essentially making the groins shorter.

Surfers will generally have to move out past the groin, meaning they no longer have the protection of the rocks and aren’t able to use the rip currents as sort of “free ride” to the outside break. Also the groins create really nice sand bars near the end for surfing. There will be a new sand bar forming farther out, but it will take awhile until the sand readjusts. This means mushy waves for awhile.

For the guards the shorter groins means that the lateral current, which runs parallel to the shoreline, won’t have as much to block it. It will run faster without as many obstructions. This means that people will drift to the rocks faster and more consistently. The rip currents are also stronger near the shore which will affect smaller people swimming closer to shore, like children.

Our guards will have to be even more pro-active than usual. They’ll have to keep people farther from the groins and the rips that occur near them. They’ll have to move faster when they get out of their towers to match the speed of people drifting. And they’ll have to watch for the effects of a steeper drop off, which includes deeper water closer to shore and a higher chance of rip currents in areas away from the groins.

You can keep yourself and others safe by staying extra far from the rocks and maintaining that distance. Stay closer to shore than normal and check with the lifeguard when you go to the beach to see if there are specific hazards in that area.

It won’t take long for the sand to shift into its natural state, but it’s always a good idea to swim near a lifeguard.