Don't miss new chance to add beach lifeguards

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 2, 2014 

How chilling to think of frantic people on the beach screaming for help.

Perhaps now, finally, help is on the way.

At least we sense new hope in talks aimed at righting one of Beaufort County's greatest wrongs: the lack of lifeguards on the public beach at the Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort.

Hunting Island beaches have not seen lifeguards since 1998. Yet it is one of the state's most popular parks, attracting an average of 1.3 million visitors annually over the past four years.

Sadly, in those four years, six people drowned off the beaches of Hunting Island.

No one has ever claimed lifeguards could prevent all drownings. But lifeguards have a better chance of getting the attention of beach-goers than signs do. They can be proactive and keep people from getting into trouble in the first place.

Those arguments and more will be taken to Columbia Jan. 9 by Hilton Head Island attorney Russell Patterson. His interest stems from the fact that his family has had at least one cabin on Hunting Island for the past 30 years. Now he is bringing new energy to an old problem, and the legislators he is to address this month should listen.

Startup costs have been estimated. Specific salary figures are in hand. Expert advice has been gleaned from the director of lifeguard services on Hilton Head.

On top of that, it is clear that the park brings in enough money for several lifeguards to be on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The greatest hurdle may not be the money, however, but a lack of job applicants. State parks officials say a lack of applicants is why the park's lifeguard program died.

But Wagner's Shore Beach Service, which contracts with the Town of Hilton Head Island to provide beach services, could bring fresh ideas. It faces the same challenge, but each summer hires more than 70 lifeguards from across the nation and around the world.

The financial and hiring challenges, and any other problems raised in Columbia, are minor compared to the challenges faced by families who lose loved ones .

We can do better than invite the world to our shores and then fail to provide basic lifeguard services. We have seen the tragedies play out all too often. Visitors come with hearts filled with joy, perhaps not giving a thought to the brutal strength of the Atlantic Ocean until it's too late.

Even one lost life makes this new effort worthwhile. Help should be on the way.

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