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School's out, lifeguards out daily on local beaches

School's out, lifeguards out daily on local beaches

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OCEAN CITY — Beach patrols across South Jersey are beginning daily operations for the thousands of tourists who will visit the shore every weekend from now until the end of summer.

Lifeguards have long stressed the importance of swimming only at guarded beaches, and some beach patrols, such as Ocean City, have extended hours at their town’s most popular locations.

The risks of the ocean were highlighted earlier this month when two people died from drowning-related causes at unguarded beaches in Long Beach Island. Kristi Pisano, 24, died June 18 after being pulled underwater by a strong current, and James Clarke, 55, suffered a fatal heart attack June 5 shortly after rescuing three children from the ocean.

“Every year, there are more and more people everywhere,” said Shanin Theiss, one of the lifeguards who patrols the crowded beaches of Ocean City.

Beach patrols in a few popular resort towns are going further during the summer by having lifeguards on duty beyond the late afternoon — the traditional time after which beachgoers swim at their own risk.

In Ocean City on Thursday, lifeguards started staying until 8 p.m. daily at the Eighth, Ninth and 12th street beaches.

In Atlantic City, starting Thursday, lifeguards will be on duty every day until 8 p.m. at the Kentucky Avenue beach. In other locations, the Beach Patrol will decide whether to stay later than 6 p.m. on a case-by-case basis, Chief Steve Downey said.

“What we do is just look at what the crowds do,” Downey said.

Tom Mullineaux, the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s chief of operations, said his team used to have lifeguards on call after 5:30 p.m. but decided several years ago to guard some of the most crowded beaches until 8 p.m.

“By the time you get to the beach, it doesn’t work too well,” he said of the rapid response teams.

Beach patrol officials advise beachgoers to swim only in front of lifeguard stations when guards are on duty. Rip currents — strong, irregular currents that drag swimmers farther from shore — are the biggest threats to those planning to go into the ocean this summer, lifeguards say.

“The rip currents, they can come out of anywhere,” said Lt. Francis Masino of the Brigantine Beach Patrol. “That’s the most dangerous part of going in the ocean.”