New push for lifeguards on beaches

The Red Cross and the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association are combining in a new push that some hope could eventually lead to lifeguards on Cayman’s beaches. 

Around 12 local swim coaches will undergo lifeguard training next week. The move is designed to add an extra skill set for coaches who work with local youngsters in pools every week. 

It will also add to the available pool of lifeguards qualified to ensure safety at open water events, including the Flowers Sea Swim, which attracts more than 1,000 competitors every summer. 

The Red Cross, which has assumed responsibility for training lifeguards in Cayman, is pushing for wider use of lifeguards. 

Peter Hughes, first aid program manager at Cayman Islands Red Cross, said the organization is designating May as lifeguard month as part of an awareness campaign. 

Long-term he would like to see a youth lifeguard program developed and designated safe swimming areas introduced on public beaches with lifeguards watching over them. 

“I would like to see a National Lifesaving Association founded in Cayman that could be responsible for lifeguarding on the beaches. Legislation would need to be introduced to make that happen.” 

He acknowledged that many of the deaths in Cayman’s waters involve snorkelers and divers with prior health problems and that few deaths could have been prevented by lifeguards. But he said if some beaches were guarded, it would provide an option for tourists who are less confident in the water. 

“It gives them an opportunity to choose a protected beach, if they wish. 

“The Turtle Farm chose to have a professional lifeguarding team because the cruise lines, which are their main customer, insisted on it. That argument stands for the rest of the island as well.” 

Mr. Hughes trains lifeguards in Bermuda and is heading to the island, which operates a national lifeguarding program through its Parks department, to run another course next month. 

He believes something similar would work well in Cayman. 

The Bermuda government spends $500,000 annually on a full-time lifeguard superintendent and 17 seasonal employees to guard five beaches during the tourist season from May 1 to October 31. Statistics for the service, from the Bermuda government budget, show that the service rescued 58 swimmers in distress and made 5,780 visitor assists in the 2011/2012 financial year.  

Marie Shepheard, who runs the Treasure Island swim program and has been involved in setting up lifeguard training for swim coaches, said she supports having lifeguards on the beaches. 

“The Cayman Islands loses one tourist every month, on average, in the water. When are we going to have a public swimming beach where we say, ‘this is a safe swimming zone?’ I really think it is about time we started thinking about lifeguarding on the beaches.” 

She said next week’s training, in which 12 swim coaches will take part in a 33-hour lifeguarding course, is necessary because, unlike their U.K. counterparts, Cayman’s swim coaches work in pools where there is no lifeguard on duty. 

“I’ve been trying for some time to get swim coaches lifeguard certified. We’ve got 11 or 12 coaches from different teams and from the sports department involved, which is great.” 

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association so far has shown little enthusiasm for the concept of lifeguards on Cayman’s beaches, arguing that it is not necessary because Cayman has relatively benign swimming conditions and that introducing lifeguards could lead to a liability blame game if something were to go wrong. 

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The Cayman Islands Red Cross and others are pushing for trained lifeguards on public beaches, at pools and to help ensure safety at open water events.