Lifeguards returned to the beaches of Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key this weekend, and are preparing for spring breakers and the 2014 summer tourist season.
Last year, more lifeguards were on the beach in the early going, and Public Safety Director Bob West says this year, they’ve been building on that. As part of their training, West annually reminds lifeguard candidates of the importance of the job – that guarding open water is not the same as sitting over a pool at the country club. West points to the Affordable Care Act for having the extra sets of eyes on the beach this year. “You know, in the old days I could work these young men and women 40 hours-plus,” said West. “Now they can’t work more than 30. So, just by the virtue of them not working as many hours I have to have more staff. “ The ACA considers anyone working 30 hours or more per week as full-time employees – requiring their employers to offer health insurance. That aside, West predicts a huge 2014 summer season. “We’ll start seeing it from now until about the second week of April,” West said. “Then we’ll drop a bit and then we run wide open from May on. The Blues (Blue Angels) will be back, a couple of big concerts going on. I’m expecting probably our biggest summer ever.” But even the most skilled lifeguard can only do so much. Visitors are advised to help them out by getting familiar with a number of safety features, such as the surf warning system. For weak swimmers, West recommends a hotel swimming pool or Quietwater Beach on the Sound – where there’s no current and a gradual decline into the water. And when you come to the beach, Bob West says plan for a full day. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen. Apply the latter about 20 minutes before going out into the sun, and either every two hours or when you emerge from the water. His last two pieces of advice: plan ahead to get a parking spot and leave only your footprints when you go home.