Call for lifeguards on Cayman beaches

A life-saving safety measure or a needless expense that could lead to a liability blame game? The concept of lifeguards patrolling Grand Cayman’s beaches is dividing opinion. 

The Cayman Islands Red Cross says life guarding at busy tourist spots, like Seven Mile Beach, would save lives and send a positive image to safety conscious tourists.  

The organization believes it is only a matter of time before Cayman’s legislators follow the example of islands like Bermuda and introduce mandatory lifeguard coverage.  

The Red Cross has set up a training course in readiness and is beginning to actively advocate for lifeguards in private resorts, as well as on beaches. 

Between eight and 10 people die each year on the water in the Cayman Islands. That figure includes snorkelers, boaters and scuba divers as well as swimmers. 

The Cayman Islands Tourist Association does not currently support lifeguards as a solution, pointing out that, in many of the cases, the victims suffered medical conditions, such as heart attacks, that could equally have killed them on a golf course. 

The association believes lifeguards are unnecessary and greater public awareness of how to handle emergency situations would be a better solution. 

Jondo Obi, director of the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said staff from the organization had already trained lifeguards in Bermuda, where a cadre of lifeguards operates in high season on the main public beaches. 

She believes Cayman will ultimately need to follow Bermuda’s example and bring in beach patrols. 

“Of course it would save lives. You are not going to save everybody, but you will save some. It seems like we always wait for that tragic incident before we act. What we are saying is let’s have the discussion about it now, before that happens.” 

Peter Hughes, training manager at the Red Cross, said the organization had set up a lifeguard training course four years ago, anticipating an increase in demand. 

“We made an assessment that, at some time in the near future, there would be legislation to govern life guarding on the beaches and we should position ourselves to be ready for that,” he said. 

The legislation has not yet arrived but the Red Cross has trained lifeguards for organizations like the Amateur Swimming Association and the Cayman Turtle Farm. 

The introduction of lifeguards at the Turtle Farm’s swimming area followed recommendations from the cruise industry, which sends thousands of tourists to the venue each year, according to the Red Cross. 

Keith Sahm, watersports director for the Cayman Islands Tourist Association, believes lifeguards would have little effect in Grand Cayman and could potentially create new problems. 

“Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water and even in the presence of lifeguards, so having lifeguards on Seven Mile Beach is redundant. 

“Most places where you see lifeguards, there are other circumstances like rip-tides, high surf or strong currents to keep folks away from such high potential harmful areas. We have nothing like this on Seven Mile Beach.” 

He added that there could be liability issues. 

“What happens if you do have lifeguards and staffing issues arise? Would you close Seven Mile Beach? Would Seven Mile Beach be open on Sundays?  

“Once you set that precedent, then you deem that they are necessary and a whole new set of rules, responsibilities and blame game comes into play.” 

Mr. Hughes believes there will always be a number of swimmers, divers and snorkelers that die each year in the water, even with a comprehensive lifeguard system in place. 

But he believes properly structured year-round patrols on the busiest public beaches would save some lives and help tourists make informed choices about when it was safe to swim. 

“What you can do, and what they do all over the world, is say that the beach is life guarded between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and select the most popular beaches.  

“Outside of that, people swim at their own risk. That way, people can make decisions. You can decide not to put your kids in the water when the lifeguard is not on duty.” 

Mr. Sahm said fatalities could be minimized by the general public being more aware of what to do in an emergency situation. 

He added, “I think we need to be proactive in reminding parents and visitors to the island to be responsible and supervise their children around the beach. I see many adults, reading, playing cards, taking on cell phones, conversing with others, and not having someone supervise their small children on the beach.” 

Damian Rose, 20, became the 11th person to die in the water this year when he drowned while swimming off West Bay Beach earlier this month. 

Lifeguards-Cayman-Islands

Staff from the Cayman Islands Red Cross trained lifeguards in Bermuda, pictured, and are advocating for lifeguard coverage here.
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1 COMMENT

  1. In response to the article call for lifeguards on Cayman beaches, I would like to highlight a concern at a different level, that of the lack of priority given to saving lives through waterproofing the people of Cayman.

    In my more than a decade of involvement in Cayman Swimming, it has long since been a passion of mine to look to bring attention to this and to look to shift our national priorities to both save lives and enhance the quality of life for our people.

    I note that I am not writing to you in any formal capacity within Cayman Swimming, simply as an impassioned member of our community.

    Not a year goes by without needless loss of life amongst the Cayman population related to lack of water safety and/or swimming skills. In a country as developed as ours, it is shocking to me to see this happen again and again ?

    Years ago the national curriculum was changed so that all students would be able to swim to a life skill level by the end of primary school. Great ! However, are you surprised to hear that this has not been implemented yet ?

    Why not ? Many detailed reasons can be given, but it all comes down to priorities.

    I find it difficult to understand why we do not prioritise making such a basic life skill as swimming universal and mandatory in schools, yet as a people (and that includes our government and our private sector) we have not yet chosen to shift our priorities to place this anywhere near the top of our list ?

    Some example of things we could look to do to change this :
    – Teach more and more of our teachers and others in the community to become swim instructors
    – Change the curriculum in schools to create sufficient time for swimming lessons for every child in every school in Cayman.
    – If we do those things, we will need more facilities. Back in the mid 2000s, I led work by Cayman Swimming, in partnership with our government (and with their financial backing) to ready our country for building an aquatic centre right by the main school complex. This was designed in such a way as to create capacity to enable the vast majority of our school children nationwide (as well as our elders and other members of the community at different times) to have access to the physical facilities to make waterproofing Cayman a reality within a few short years.

    What would it cost ? Far less than most would think. Aside from a raw dollar number though, what price can we put on lives that can so easily be saved through teaching Cayman to swim ? add to that the value in enhanced life experience (as well as wellness and so future medical costs etc) from having a population that can swim ?

    Less than 10m will build that Pool of Dreams, and with that the cost of resourcing it would then be surprisingly low.

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