From Manasota to Lido Beach, lifeguards patrol a total of 36 miles worth of public beaches across Sarasota County.
Siesta Key is famously known for its colorful lifeguard towers. Unmistakable from the first step on the sand, the pops of color make for a great photo-op, but they are even better at visibly alerting visitors to their location and the location of the nearest lifeguard.
This is where you’ll find 23-year-old Bryce Makowski, who has been a Sarasota County lifeguard for the past five years.
Makowski was a teenage junior lifeguard when he began patrolling the Sarasota County beaches. Now a full-time county employee, he is one of 29 lifeguards — 13 of whom are EMTs — found year-round on Sarasota County’s six public beaches.
At 90 water-rescues and 5.4 million first-aid calls a year, according to statistics provided by the Emergency Services Department, county lifeguards urge visitors to know how to stay safe and alert this summer, especially when the nearest lifeguard might be busy or otherwise not visible.
According to Lifeguard Captain Roy Routh, one of the best ways to be safe at the beach is to simply be aware of the boundaries, like keeping an eye out for beach towers and buoys.
“We’re responsible for the county beach and the water that’s in front of it,” Routh said. “We set our exclusionary buoys … at the north and south end of the [public] property. Those are our swim zones, and those are the areas that we actually have lifeguard stands.”
Routh and Makowski said lifeguards will still respond if dispatched to an emergency on private property.
Should a beachgoer need help, 911 is always available.
“If we aren’t immediately working on another patient at that time, we’ll get in a truck, a vehicle, a jet ski, whatever the nature of the call dictates,” Makowski said. “Our response times tend to be pretty snappy because we’re on the beach already.”
Rip currents are the No. 1 cause of water-rescues, Routh said.
But rip currents aren’t the only thing to be wary of.
“For water-rescues, it’s often people who overestimate their own ability to swim,” Makowski said. “Everybody sees other people out on the sandbar and thinks, ‘Oh, I can get out there.’ … Don’t overestimate your abilities.”
According to Makowski, the far-out swimmers that other beachgoers try to follow are usually surfers or athletes.
Although water-rescues are typically the first thing beachgoers might envision when they think of an on-duty lifeguard, both Routh and Makowski said heat is another cause of medical complications on the beach.
“I’ve noticed there is a good number of those patients that have consumed a lot of alcohol,” Routh said. “I strongly suggest, when you come to the beach, not to do a lot of drinking of alcoholic beverages. It takes you down a road that you’d probably rather not go down. … Come hydrated. Bring food and water.”
Basic hydration and water-related caution aside, Makowski said there are also other ways visitors can help themselves stay safe and healthy at the beach, such as paying attention to the “storyboards” lifeguards post on their towers every day.
“We have chalkboards in front of our tower on every single beach,” he said. “Most of us put a decent little bit of thought into what goes on those boards.
“We write out weather conditions for the day, expected hazards, things that you want to look out for. … It’s going to give you a really good idea of what you’ve got going on for the day.”
The storyboards also contain beach warning flag meanings, the time of high and low tides and marine life information.
According to Routh, Sarasota County Lifeguard Operations also regularly updates Mote Marine on weather conditions, which then post beach statuses on its Beach Conditions website.
But at the end of the day, he said, one of the best ways beachgoers can take care of themselves at the beach is to simply be around loved ones.
“Keep an eye on your friends and your family members,” Routh said. “Who knows you better than a loved one or family member? If you’re starting to feel sick, or you’re dehydrated, or you’re not feeling well, I think a family member — if they’re keeping an eye on you — would recognize the fact that maybe you’re not yourself. … Maybe it’s just time to call it a day and get out of the sun.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.