Beach safety a concern after four recent drownings

A picture perfect beach weekend lies ahead, but don’t the serenity of the shoreline fool you; the waters off the Rockaways are rough. 

Grim statistics are proof: there have been four deadly drownings off The Rockaways in the span of a month. The most recent was on Sunday when 15-year-old boy drowned in Jamaica Bay. Just days before that an 18-year-old was swept away by the tides. And in early July, two people drowned at night.

“One drowning is too many,” said Javier Rodriguez, an assistant lifeguard coordinator on Rockaway Beach for the NYC Parks Department.

Rodriguez said all drownings that have happened at city beaches or pools over the last six years occurred where lifeguards were not on duty.

“It’s important for people to understand that if there aren't any lifeguards present they shouldn't go in the waters,” he said.

Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at city beaches. Councilman Donovan Richards, who represents the Rockaways, says those hours should be extended to 8 p.m.

“A lot of young people and their families, unfortunately especially in low income communities, may not have access to air conditioning, they’re gonna want to spend more time outside.”

But the parks department said in a statement: “The safety of everyone on the beach is important, including lifeguards. They spend long hours in the hot sun surveilling thousands of people a day. Their job is extremely susceptible to exhaustion and fatigue, and permanently adding more hours to their regular shifts would put undue stress on them that would inhibit their ability to properly surveil the beaches and keep beach goers safe.”

The Department said staggering shifts to accommodate longer hours isn't feasible given current staffing, and to do so would mean they would have to close some beaches.

“We’re in a state of emergency in the Rockaways as we speak,” Donovan said, adding more resources are needed for lifeguards and education.

Both he and Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island, are calling for water safety and swimming education in schools in shoreline communities.

With hurricane season getting underway, risks increase, as do rip currents. 

Janet Fash, a Chief Lifeguard at the Beach 32nd street station in the Rockaways who has been a lifeguard for three decades, said if a swimmer gets caught in a rip current he or she should relax and let the rip current carry them.

“The rip current is like a Coney Island ride, there's a beginning a middle and an end. Step it off at the end, float on your back, relax, keep calm,” she said. “If you realize it’s not pulling you under, it’s pulling you out, and then you can swim sideways.”

On-duty lifeguards can then help swimmers get to safety.