Fernandina Beach Ocean Rescue
Early September is a time when lifeguard towers are collected from the beaches and put into storage until next year. Their disappearance from the seashore signals the end of the season, as summertime slips into fall.
This year for the 2020 summer beach season, something new showed up at Fernandina’s most popular beach parks. Pictured above, the had city purchased two large lifeguard towers. One was positioned at Main Beach Park, the other at Seaside Park (pictured below).
The new towers, much larger than the classic wooden chairs, provide a better viewing platform with space for equipment storage. They were actually purchased “used” from the National Park Service (reportedly costing $2K each plus $1,500 transportation).
The rest of the beaches on Amelia Island still use the classic red chairs, but they’re gone now, until next year. The lifeguard towers will be back on the beaches by the first weekend in May next year in 2021.
Pandemic Summer of 2020
Besides new lifeguard towers in 2020, something else novel showed up this year. Brand new challenges of COVID-19 and attempting to keep the beach-going public safe at the seashore. The pandemic also adds risk for lifeguards, since their job requires, in emergencies, close contact with the public during water rescues and other first aid.
Ocean Rescue, a division of the Fernandina Beach Fire Department, is responsible for Amelia Island’s lifeguards. This includes guarding the beaches within the city’s jurisdiction as well as Nassau County’s beachfront on the island.
Six Week Beach Shutdown
Amelia Island’s beaches became off limits to the public when concern about COVID-19 prompted a decision to shut down local beaches completely. The closure, lasting six weeks, was a local city and county government decision for beachfront under their jurisdiction. (Decisions about the beaches within Fort Clinch State Park and Amelia Island State Park are made by the state).
Social Distancing At The Beach
When Amelia Island’s beaches were reopened in early May 2020, new social distancing guidelines for the beach-going public were issued. Still in place (see sign pictured below), are to keep groups limited to ten or less and have at least six feet of distance on the beach from other people not in your group. Driving onto beaches to park has become restricted to Nassau County residents only (active military members an exception).
Nassau County, Florida Beach Rules (Sept. 2020)
Beaches Become Quieter Weekdays in August
While far fewer people go to the beach after Labor Day, the beaches actually get much quieter around Amelia Island weekdays in August. This is a result of schools being back in session. Around the Florida-Georgia border, kids go back to school earlier than many other places around the nation.
Nearby Camden County, GA started school on August 4, 2020. The new 2020-2021 school year in Nassau County, Fl was delayed this year to August 24, 2020. Reopening schools during the pandemic has been controversial around the nation. Locally, an overwhelming majority of Nassau County, FL parents representing more than 80% of students, opted to send their kids back to brick and mortar schools for in-person instruction.
“Swim At Your Own Risk”
Beach weather continues through September and early October here in northeast Florida. The ocean temperature remains relatively warm and inviting in September into mid-October, but dangerous rip currents can be lurking. Signage at the beaches warns “swim at your own risk.”
Beware Rip Currents, Call 911 In An Emergency
Sign Up For Beach Condition Alerts
The public can sign up to receive local emergency alerts about beach conditions.
On Sept. 11, 2020 at 3:03 p.m., for example, the Fernandina Beach Fire Dept. entered an alert sent to cell phones with this advisory: “RED HIGH HAZARD — Reg flag conditions: current and surf conditions dangerous for all levels of swimmers. For emergencies call 911!”
Fernandina’s Ocean Rescue
Many of the lifeguards are teenagers and/or college students. They deserve recognition, especially this year. Choosing to work and help people at the beaches during the pandemic summer of 2020.
An ocean rescue lifeguard is not an easy job to begin with. Besides the difficult training, there’s spending all day outside in Florida’s brutal, humid summer heat. Plus the huge responsibility of rescuing adults and children, trying to prevent accidental drownings.
Let’s hope that next year, by the summer season of 2021, the worst of the pandemic is behind us with potential vaccines on the horizon.