TO LIFEGUARDING &
THE HISTORY AND
DEVELOPMENT OF PROFESSIONAL LIFEGUARDS
written by Lieutenant Skip Lee, OCBP (c) 1998
It is easy to understand that
during the late 1700's, the North American coastline was very different
from what it is today. Vast portions of the coast were totally uninhabited.
What population was there was generally not interested in the type of open
water recreation that we enjoy today. Instead, the people of the
18th century worked hard and constantly to put food in their mouths and
clothing on their backs -- the basic necessities that most of us
take for granted. Yet loss of life to drowning along the nation's
coast was a serious problem, even in the 1700's. The cause of that problem
In today's world, of radar,
LORAN, navigational aids and propeller power, news of shipwrecks
is considered somewhat of a novelty. But in the early days of the nation,
ships were navigated by compass, sextant and educated guesses, and were
always at the mercy of nature. The end of many storms brought the evidence
of tragedy at sea -- wreckage and lives lost.
The first records of organized
efforts to do something for victims of this type of drowning come from
the Massachusetts Humane Society. In 1789, the Society began building refuge
houses along the Massachusetts coast for survivors of shipwrecks. In 1807,
the Society set up the nation's first lifeboat station on Cape Cod.
In 1839, a New Jersey physician,
Dr. William A. Newell, witnessed a shipwreck tragedy near Long Beach,
New York, and watched as 13 people drowned trying to swim 300 yards to
The doctor remembered this
tragedy, and later when he became a Congressman, helped to persuade the
U.S. government to get involved in lifesaving. In 1848, Congress appropriated
money to build and equip eight small lifeboat stations along the
New Jersey coast.
But while Congress provided
the equipment, it did not provide for manpower. Keys to lifeboat
stations were left with volunteers who, following a list of printed
instructions, were expected to rig and use the equipment to save
people on ships foundering in a storm. This type of service did have
some success, recording some 4,163 saves, but because the coast was
largely uninhabited, many shipwrecks went undetected. Tragedies were still
discovered when people came out of heir houses on mornings following storms.
Unmanned lifeboat stations were also vandalized, and soon fell into
Congress realized these
problems, and in 1854 appropriated more money to hire a superintendent,
and staff each lifeboat station with one attendant. Lifeboat stations were
also brought closer together to provide for uninterrupted coverage of the
coastline. Patrols were organized, and the station attendants were
often expected to walk the coastline all night, regardless of the weather,
to detect shipwrecks.
After the civil war, Congress
spent more money on the lifeboat station system, increasing crew
at each station and adding to the station's size and comfort facilities.
The professionalism of the system grew too, as strict regulations
were set for competence, performance, routine, beach patrols, and
physical conditioning. More stations were built, and during the 1870's,
the system was
expanded to cover the coast
from Maine to Florida, as well as areas on the Great Lakes. Later, portions
of the gulf and west coast were included. In 1878, the system became
a separate agency of the Treasury Department and was officially called
the U.S. Lifesaving Service.
The U.S. Lifesaving Service
continued to project the nation's coastline until 1915, and between 1871
and 1915 amassed a fine record -- 28,121 vessels aided and 178,841 people
saved. In 1915, the service was merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter
service and became what is known today as the United Coast Guard.
During this period in American
history, society began to change. America was growing, and Americans
were becoming more prosperous and less dependent on constant work
for survival. The concept of recreation began to take hold for a
growing number of people who had enough money to afford it and enough
time to enjoy it. Americans were beginning to realize that
recreational swimming, once
widely thought to be a sure cause of death, was an enjoyable pastime.
Beach resorts began to spring up along the coast and on lakes, and
governments began to acquire beach front property or guarantee the right
of public access for the specific purpose of recreation. By the 1890's,
open water swimming was all the rage.
Americans quickly found, however,
that swimming was not without risk.Newspapers buzzed with reports of drownings
in the recreational setting, particularly where incidents claimed
several lives in a storm surf or rip current. In reaction, beach
resorts began to hire especially good swimmers to "guard" the beach.
Local governments, spurred on by public pressure, also began to hire
lifeguards for work along publicly owned or controlled beaches. These
lifeguards were quick to adapt the equipment and techniques used
for years by the U.S. Lifesaving Service to save the lives of swimmers
Still, there were drownings.
Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow became very disturbed at news of
drownings in the recreational setting where no one was able to assist the
victim. In 1914, he formed the Life Saving Service of the American Red
Cross, a corps of volunteers recruited and
trained to provide rescues
at beaches not regularly patrolled by lifeguards. Not satisfied that this
was the solution to the drowning problem, Commodore Longfellow recruited
the strongest swimmers from the Corps to teach swimming to beach
visitors. He began a program to "Waterproof America" by teaching people
to swim, and by training lay people in the skills that
they could use to rescue a
drowning person. His slogan, "Everyone a swimmer, every swimmer a
Lifesaver" became the motto of early Red Cross programs that taught
swimming, water safety and lifesaving to many children and adults.
Another organization, the
Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), also became concerned
with recreational drownings and became active with the concept of lifesaving,
or preparing lay people with the skills necessary to rescue bathers
in trouble. The YMCA entered into the lifesaving field between 1885 and
1890, and established the United Volunteer Lifesaving Corps
in 1890 to provide rescue service at beaches and pools not satisfied with
lifeguards. In 1911, lifesaving work and research was established
at the YMCA's national college in Springfield,
Massachusetts. The National
YMCA Lifesaving Service was organized in 1912. The first published
American book on lifesaving was written as a thesis at Springfield
College by George Goss in 1913, and was eventually published
as a lifesaving textbook in 1916. This book was first promoted as
"Water First Aid."
Meanwhile, professional open
water lifeguard services continued to spring up across the United
States. There was, however, little continuity in these services, largely
due to a lack of a national organization charged with setting standards
for the new profession. This fact is surprising, because
it appears that the United
States was practically the only country in the developed world that
not align its lifeguard
agencies within a national organization. In other countries, especially
of the British Commonwealth,
lifesaving "societies" were chartered, and were mandated to set
standards for lifeguard
operations. In some areas, these societies actually supervised and
lifeguard operations, regardless
of who owned or had responsibility for the open water recreation
site. The U.S. government,
however, did not charter or mandate such an organization, and
did not start one themselves. In fact, the pioneering organizations
related field of lifesaving
declined to get involved in professional lifeguarding, as those organizations
contended that their
programs were intended to promote safe swimming and provide training
personal rescue techniques
for lay people, not paid professionals.
Lifeguard services did improve,
however, using techniques that evolved from the U.S. Lifesaving Service
body of knowledge being developed through the lifesaving programs of the
American Red Cross and other professional emergency
services, including police and fire departments. By the end of the
1930's, lifeguards had become a common sight at many beaches across
the United States.
LOOK AT OCEAN CITY
Until about 1930, beach goers
were concentrated at Caroline Street in front of the United States
Coast Guard station in Ocean City, Maryland. This was the block where
beach goers could rent suits at the Showell Bathhouse. It was also
where the Coast guardsmen in their boardwalk tower watched over bathers,
as well as ships at sea.
Beach Patrol Captain Bob Craig
remembers that about a block away was a big double jetty across the beach.
It was constructed of wooden pilings with crossbars between, and
people kept getting caught between the poles, requiring numerous
The surf washed right up to,
and often under, the boardwalk at that time. In 1930, the beach had
gotten so narrow that bathers began moving up the beach beyond North
Division Street and out of range of the Coast Guardsmen in the tower.
William W. McCabe was the mayor then, and he and Captain William
Purnell of the Coast Guard organized the original Ocean City
Beach Patrol. It
began with one man, Edward
Lee Carey, who was hired to watch over the beach where the crowd
was. He was the son of Savannah Carey, whose mother owned the Del-Mar
Hotel on North Division Street. The Patrol developed year by year.
New men were added and supplied
with buoys for rescues, first-aid
kits, and umbrellas.
Captain Craig remembers well
the early members of the patrol; John Laws, whose family had a cottage
next to the Del-Mar Hotel; Nick Lampofrea, an All-American Football
Player for the University of Maryland; Ned and Tommy Dukehart (Tommy later
became a sportswriter for the Baltimore Sun); hometown boys Milton and
George Conner; Gary Todd of Salisbury; Barney
McCabe (the mayor's son);
Franklin ("Cutie") and Emory ("Huck") Savage; and Bill Pacy
In 1935, two names of special
significance appeared on the roster for the first time. One was Harry
W. Kelley, later to become Ocean City's most widely publicized mayor.
The other was Bob Craig, the genial, six-foot man who was still on
the Patrol 51 years later. From 1946 to 1986,
he served as captain.
Bob Craig was born and reared
in Wilmington, Delaware. Ocean City has always been an
important part of his life.
His father was a schoolteacher, and the family spent the summers
cottage at the beach.
He married a young woman from nearby Berlin, Virginia Lee Mason.
After attending the University
of Pennsylvania, receiving an undergraduate degree with a major in
languages and a master's degree
in education, he still returned every summer to Ocean City to be
on the Beach Patrol.
Craig's teaching career was
in St. Louis, where he taught languages and mathematics to high
school students and coached
football, basketball, tennis, and golf. He and his wife settled into
year-round home in,
of course, Ocean City. He remained Captain of the Beach Patrol, and
described himself as "probably
the longest-term employee the city ever has ever had."
Since Bob Craig started on
the Patrol, it has grown to about 160 members. The guard towers
continued their advance up
the beach as the = resort developed. Today, the Patrol covers over ten
miles of beach, from the inlet
to the Maryland-Delaware line. It is equipped with jeeps, Honda
quads, walkie-talkies, and
the familiar semaphore flags.
One of the most notable changes
in the Beach Patrol has been the presence of female lifeguards on
the lifeguard stands. The
first female lifeguard was hired in 1977.
Women have come a long way
since the 1930's, when the late Betty Strohecker Gordy, who
worked out with long distance
swims up the beach and out swam most of the men on the Patrol,
could not be a member. Ms.
Gordy, an Ocean City native and later a locally well-known Realtor,
was attending Roosevelt High
School in Washington, D.C., at the time. Before her life turned in
other directions, she was
the regional backstroke champion and training for the Olympics. Today,
there is no discrimination
against women, nor do they receive special consideration in tryouts.
The tryouts and training are
grueling. To be under initial consideration, applicants must swim a quarter
of a mile in the ocean from the jetty at the Inlet to the fishing
pier, keeping their strokes through waves and currents, and come into shore
in ten minutes or less. As soon as swimmers hit the beach, they must
then run in the sand back to the starting point.
Applicants who survive the
initial test (most do not) continue from there with a series of simulated
rescues with and without a torpedo buoy, run a 220-yard course in soft
sand in 60 seconds and, if still in action, break for lunch.
Next, in a swimming pool,
there is a test in lifesaving techniques, keeping one's head, and
breaking of the most unexpected holds a desperate swimmer may try. Patrol
members are taught the semaphore
flag signals and first aid, and receive intensive CPR training
from the paramedic unit.
The lifeguards learn abut
treacherous rip currents, the changing ocean bottom, and how far to let
the surf mats go out with different winds and tide conditions. They
also have to keep an eye out for swimmers who get too close to the
long wooden and, more recently, stone jetties that jut out into the
surf to help check beach erosion. Captain Craig has estimated that in a
typical season, the Patrol goes to the rescue of about 2,500 bather, handles
1,000 lost children, and is called on for first aid about 500 times.
Beyond those general qualifications,
Patrol members, who are generally between the ages of 20 and 23, must possess
the more subtle skills, or instincts, to deal with a variety of people.
They answer questions, serious and silly, and enforce, as gently
as possible, the rules of the beach, prohibiting alcoholic beverages,
glass containers, ball-playing, dogs, and loud music.
"A guard needs maturity,"
Captain Craig has said, "to be able to tell someone as old as his grandfather
that he is breaking the law." For their services, guards can expect a range
of responses, from intense gratitude to indifference -- or embarrassment.
For example, a swimmer washed
out in a rip current and nearing exhaustion is making no headway
getting back through the breakers. The lifeguard swims out and helps the
swimmer to shore. Without a word of acknowledgment or thanks, the swimmer
walks away as nonchalantly as possible, communicating by his or her manner
to anyone who may be watching, that he or she did not really need
any help at all.
This is one of the most familiar
of the small dramas seen by the practiced watcher of a lifeguard
on the job.
TIMELINE - KNOW YOUR PROFESSION!
of the Massachusetts Humane Society.
houses built along the Massachusetts coastline for the survivors of shipwrecks.
1807 Establishment of the
nation's first lifeboat station on Cape Cod.
1839 Tragic shipwreck witnessed
by Dr. William A. Newell, in which 13 victims attempted unsuccessfully
to swim to safety. This event later helped persuade the U.S. government
to become involved in lifesaving.
lifeboat stations built and equipped along the New Jersey coast.
hired for each lifeboat station; a superintendent was appointed.
1878 U.S. government
bureau of United States Lifesaving Service established.
Volunteer Lifesaving Corps established, providing rescue services at pools
beaches not staffed with lifeguards.
1908 George Douglas
Freeth established first lifeguard training at Redondo Beach, California;
received the gold medal from
U.S. Lifeguard Service for dramatic rescue.
1910 U.S. Volunteer
Lifesaving Corps of New York City hired Commodore Wilbert Longfellow as
1912 National Lifesaving
1913 Duke Paoa Kanhanamoku
introduced redwood surfboard to Long Beach, California; lifeguards for
use as rescue equipment.
1914 Longfellow organized
Red Cross Lifesaving Corps.
1915 U.S. Lifesaving Service
merged with Revenue Cutter Service, creating the U.S.Coast
1930 Ocean City Beach Patrol
1935 Captain Robert
S. Craig takes command of the season lifesaving operation
1933 Inlet cut through
the beach to the bay.
1946 Beach Patrol
expands to 18 personnel -- three times the size of the original group.
1977 First females
hired as lifeguards.
1987 Robert S. Craig
retires as captain of the Beach Patrol and is succeeded by George A.
Schoepf. Schoepf served as
Assistant Captain under Craig for over thirty years.
1997 Captain George
A. Schoepf dies while in office. First Lieutenant Melborne "Butch"
Arbin is appointed Captain.
Sources of information for
USLA Training Manual
Interviews with Ret.Captain
Robert Craig (OCBP)
Captain George A. Schoepf(d
This information was from a brochure provided by the Ocean
City Beach Patrol.
I provided this information as a means to help promote and
assist the OCBP with recruiting.
Not responible for typographical errors. I have made every
attempt to make sure that this information is accurate.
Please inform me of any changes or errors