Beach Lifeguards Spread Too Thin Due to Increased Sunset Cliffs Rescue Activity

by on September 14, 2015 · 4 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Labor, Ocean Beach, San Diego

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Sunset Cliffs rescue, April 1, 2010.

Lifeguard Staffing at OB and Mission Beach Adversely Effected by Rescues at Pocket Beaches – Should Be On Par With La Jolla

By Ed Harris

For years, Lifeguards have expressed the need for increased staffing at several locations.  The need for staffing at Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs is high on the list.

The pocket beaches along Sunset Cliffs (Santa Cruz, Bermuda, No Surf and Ladera Street) have become increasingly busy in recent years.

They used to be attended mainly by locals but the internet, increased tourism and vacation rentals have changed that.

cliff rescue 4-1-10 jg 04Lifeguards and local surfers have been making rescues in large numbers due to the increase in attendance. We will always rely on and be grateful to the surfers who make rescues or assist until guards arrive on scene; this happens on occasion at most beaches.

There is a tipping point, however, and I believe we are well past it at Sunset Cliffs.

San Diego Lifeguards are operating with a model that was developed over thirty years ago.  For example, spring break is spread out over six to eight weeks – yet – we still only fully staff for one week.

We still largely rely on back up coming from other beaches and that has become more difficult due to traffic on the roads and bridges.

Ocean Beach is no exception. In the past, the Ocean Beach sergeant (1-SAM) would respond once or twice a week to the Cliffs.

Now the sergeant is spending a large part of the day responding to the Cliffs.

This increases the risk to us all. Driving “Code Three” numerous times a day from various places either as the primary unit or back up unit increases the risk of accidents.

Taking the primary supervisors and Lifeguards from Ocean Beach and Mission Beach reduces the resources allocated for those areas.

Ocean Beach is a very crowded and historically dangerous beach that cannot be understaffed.

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OB Lifeguard in action. Photo by Annie Lane, Aug. 2010

In order to back up OB, we send a (PWC) Personal Water Craft with two guards and the sergeant from Mission Beach. The problem was compounded when the department decided to convert the Ocean Beach lieutenant position into an administrative lieutenant.

The southern and central areas converged, doubling the duties for the central lieutenant stationed at Mission Beach.

Ocean Beach was left with no lieutenant at the station. This was a big change; there has been a lieutenant stationed at Ocean Beach for over 30 years.

The Mission Beach lieutenant (2-L) is now charged with overseeing operations from the tip of Point Loma to Bird Rock. This area includes five main towers, twenty-five seasonal towers, sixteen vehicles, five vessels, six sergeants and approximately 80 Lifeguards.

This is clearly an unrealistic span of control.

Lifeguards make 4000-6500 rescues every year, but our real success comes from preventative contacts that are made constantly. Making warnings and observing behavior is key. We train guards to observe and prevent; we cannot prevent if we are not there.

The pocket beaches at Sunset Cliffs are staffed differently than those of La Jolla. La Jolla’s pocket beaches are guarded in the summer and on the weekends during the spring and fall.

It is time we do the same at Sunset Cliffs.

Ed Harris
Teamsters 911

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel Shay September 14, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Well written. That Ed Harris is good at everything!


daryl pawlack September 14, 2015 at 8:43 pm

ED Harris is really a hero, I had the opportunity to work with him for many years. I’m truly impressed by his integrity and ability to stand up for our community, the City and the people he serves in the beach community. Thanks again ED


PL Local September 14, 2015 at 6:28 pm

If East county kooks and tourist want to jump the Arch at low tide, let them win the Darwin award.

During Labor day weekend I saw, for the majority of the time, 2 Lifeguard trucks and 1 cop at the Arch. 1 of the Lifeguards would patrol from Point Loma Ave to Ladara st. If we had just 1 Lifeguard to patrol the whole Sunset Cliffs, mainly when the tide is coming up or going down, it would be so much better. And when it is low tide, watch over the Arch to make sure no kooks try to get on the nightly news.


Bonnie Knapp Marine St. Taskforce Nutcase July 12, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Dear Sgt. Harris: I did not realize who you were when I bring ice cream and support to the wonderful Lifeguards at Marine St.Beach. You are wonderful and I campaigned for you and voted for you and I believe I saw you at the Town Council Meeting in La Jolla. Thank you for everything and I admire how you handle all the crazy happenings at our beaches and your expert reports. I have been here in La Jolla since 1974 and I am going Bonkers and I sure admire how you and your brave crews handle everything.. I do not mean to be intrusive or over emotional. How can I help? Bonnie Knapp 858-459-0989


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