Tech and Towers: Far from Silicon Valley, Lifeguards Explore the Benefits of Technology and Ocean Safety

Moore’s law has increasing significance in the 21st century not just in telecommunications and apps, but also for the future of ocean safety. Advances in hardware and software size, power, and speed has allowed us to make leaps and bounds in technology, so much that even the most old fashioned of institutions are entering the digital age.

For so long, lifeguard departments have relied primarily on their fins, buoy, and bravery in order to keep beaches safe. Many departments were upholding the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality with their operations, often employing outdated communications and surveillance technology. San Clemente Marine Safety has already made a huge step towards modernizing their operations with the installation of beach surveillance cameras at crucial high points along the beach so that disturbances, rescues, and emergencies could be observed from central dispatch, and recorded for use in future training exercises.

This surveillance system has aided in evaluating resource allocation in emergency response situations as well as assisting law enforcement in keeping the peace during major holidays. The San Clemente Beach Cam on the San Clemente City website has also been a valuable resource for visitors to San Clemente beaches.

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Most recently, Lifeguards in Seal Beach have begun pioneering the use of drone technology to survey the water for shark activity. With an increased number of shark sightings in Orange County and an 8-foot great white caught on the San Clemente pier last month, many lifeguard departments, including San Clemente, are beginning to explore the possibilities and advantages of having another set of eyes (or cameras) out on the water.

“We were looking for a better way to identify the length, and what type of shark, and where they were, so we thought a drone might be useful,” says Chief Joe Bailey, a Seal Beach lifeguard. “We’ve been flying it two or three times a week, and it’s been a great success at being able to spot the sharks that are near our coastline.”

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Some attribute the increase in shark sightings to the increase in the number of people looking for them. Everyone knows there are sharks in the ocean. Maybe in years past we didn’t have the technology to see them. With the widespread public fear of sharks and shark sightings, it is important for Lifeguards to have as much information as possible to educate the public about marine life and shark activity. Being able to spot potentially dangerous marine life before it comes close to shore could be an invaluable safeguard against the unthinkable.

With that said, adding a drone to operations could set the stage to increase ocean safety beyond the surveillance of marine life. Other potential uses for lifeguard technology could include:

  • Monitoring potentially distressed long distance swimmers/paddlers far off shore
  • Investigating potentially distressed vessels off shore that may be in need of assistance or are in danger of washing ashore through crowds of beach-goers
  • Surveillance of rescues for training purposes (for lifeguards and junior lifeguards alike)
  • Investigation of ocean debris that could be in danger of washing ashore through crowds of beach goers, without having to deploy a personal watercraft (PWC / JetSki). This leaves the PWC operational for other types of emergency response

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Additionally, a beach in Chile is piloting a program of lifeguard drones that can zip out over the sea and drop a life preserver to struggling swimmers, buying time for the human lifeguard to retrieve them. Should you ever find yourself drowning, help may come not from Baywatch-esque lifeguards running in slow motion, but from the sky. This could significantly reduce drowning rates for beaches that are overcrowded and understaffed. Utilization of drones for these types of operations is still in the pilot phases, but the Lifeguard community is hopeful in these advances to make the beaches and oceans a safer place for all.

About Us:

The San Clemente Lifeguard & Junior Guard Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the safety and well-being of visitors to the beach through developing and building community partnerships and obtaining resources to directly support the San Clemente Marine Safety Division’s Lifeguard and Junior Lifeguard programs. 

San Clemente Lifeguard and Junior Lifeguard programs are focused on maximizing the safety and well‐being of visitors to San Clemente’s beach and ocean environment through public education, preventive measures, and responsive emergency intervention.

To assist in meeting these goals and better serving our community, the San Clemente Lifeguard & Junior Guard Foundation was formed in 2013. The goals of the foundation are to provide supplemental resources in the form of volunteers, equipment or facilities, and funding for projects and programs that might otherwise not be possible.

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