A sign at Gulffront Park in Anna Maria advises beachgoers to swim at their own risk and beware of rip tides. Similar signs are posted at 37 beach accesses in the city. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
In the wake of the July 6 death in Anna Maria of a 14-year-old boy caught in a rip current while on vacation from Winter Haven, some island officials have called for lifeguards to be posted at key points on the city’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline.
Mayor SueLynn said funding a lifeguard program would be up to the city commission. Warning signs about strong currents and the risk of swimming are posted at each of the city’s 37 beach access locations, but are not the same as lifeguards.
“It’s a terrible tragedy, and I’m so sorry for the family,” the mayor said.
She recalled a previous incident in 2010, which resulted in death that occurred near Sycamore Avenue a few blocks north of the Sandbar Restaurant.
In the July 6 tragedy, authorities said the 14-year-old was caught in a strong current in knee-deep water off Willow Avenue and was unable to get back to shore. His 12-year-old brother was with him and alerted the family and rescue officials.
The mayor said many people may not read the posted warning signs and that accidents probably will continue.
There must have been 70 people, probably more, at Willow Avenue when this tragedy took place, the mayor added.
SueLynn said she had public works supervisor George McKay go out last week to make sure signs were posted at all city beach access locations.
A random survey of about 15 people at Gulffront Park on Gulf Boulevard south of the Sandbar Restaurant July 9 found no one who had read the warning signs posted in three locations at the park.
The mayor said the answer to avoid a further tragedy might be hiring lifeguards. That, however, is up to the city commission.
The mayor said she could not guess how many lifeguards Anna Maria would need to cover its beaches, which extend from Beach Avenue northward and around Bean Point to just north of the Rod & Reel Pier, a distance of about 1.4 miles. Additionally, the city pier now has a sandy shore that is attracting beachgoers.
Commissioner Gene Aubry suggested the three island cities might form a lifeguard department for those beaches not covered by county lifeguards.
Manatee County has lifeguards at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. Lifeguard salaries with Manatee County Marine Rescue start at around $31,000 per year plus benefits.
Capt. Joe Westerman, head of the county marine rescue unit, said there are 10 full-time and one part-time lifeguards that staff county beaches on the island.
On average, he said, there are 75 rip current interventions annually and 14,000 preventive actions by lifeguards at Manatee County beaches. A preventive action was defined as “any time staff interacts with the public to alter situations that may be hazardous,” according to information from the marine rescue unit.