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No lifeguards at Lewes due to staffing shortage

LEWES, Del. (AP) — Visitors can expect to see a new sign at the beaches in Lewes this summer: Swim at your own risk.

The two municipal beaches in Lewes — now known as Savannah Beach and Johnnie Walker Beach — will not be guarded this summer due to staffing challenges, according to City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.

“We were not in a position to safely guard the beach,” Townshend said, adding that the city did not want to inadequately staff the beach and create a “false sense of security.”

Townshend recognized the importance of having guarded beaches, and she confirmed that the intention is to return to a full lifeguarding staff for future summers.

In the meantime, though, she reminds people to continue to follow the beach rules and be careful while swimming and enjoying the beach.

“Parents who bring their children to the beach need to make sure that they watch them, and (know) that their eyes are the eyes that need to be on the kids,” she said. If there is a medical or other emergency, people can call 911 or reach out to a parking enforcement officer who can connect them with the needed resources.

These staffing challenges are familiar to Delaware’s resort towns, many of which have recently increased pay or benefits for their seasonal police officers and lifeguards to attract more employees in the summer.

Lewes had recently increased its lifeguard pay from $13.49 per hour to $16 per hour in order to compete with neighboring municipalities.

Last summer, Lewes hired eight of its typical 10 lifeguards, and they managed but Townshend said it was difficult. The beaches were unguarded for a weekend in August due to low staffing.

This also comes shortly after Lewes Lifeguard Capt. Elisha Hartman, who worked with the city beach patrol for more than 18 years, has left her position for a new job.

While losing that valued leader certainly made the staffing challenge even more difficult, Townshend said, “even if she was able to come back full time, with the number of applications we received, we wouldn’t have been able to effectively guard the beach.”

Typically Lewes, like its neighbors to the south, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach, had lifeguards patrolling throughout the summer from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Known for quickly filling with beachgoers in the summer, Rehoboth Beach is guarded along the entire 2-mile stretch of the city limits, according to the beach patrol’s website.

City spokesperson Lynne Coan assured that the beaches are ready to welcome visitors with a full staff of 65 guards on the Rehoboth Beach Patrol.

Most of the Delaware State Park beaches — including Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island — also staff lifeguards in designated swimming areas from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

However, due to staffing challenges, that schedule has changed in the past. Last summer, the Delaware State Parks announced that a couple of its beaches were going to be unguarded during weekdays and some swimming areas were going to be smaller during those final two weeks of summer when many of the young guards were heading back to school.

Shauna McVey, spokesperson for Delaware State Parks, said in a statement that any reduction in hours typically happens at the end of the season as high school, college and sports camps start back up.

There have been fewer applications for the 2022 season than in recent years, but McVey said the beach patrol is still hiring and offers several opportunities for bonuses and subsidized housing.

While people can certainly swim in unguarded areas, lifeguards and beach patrol captains remind visitors that it is safest to swim where lifeguards are present. This is especially true in areas of the Delaware and Maryland beaches where the waves crash hard and fast.

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