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South Florida Cities Opt for Safety over Spring Break Revelry

From the death of a child who had been digging a hole in the sand in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to Miami’s Spring Break-up, South Florida beaches are having a moment. While lifeguards and leaders emphasize safer, saner days in the sun, young tourists aren’t sure this is what they came for.

By Carlos Schiappacasse | MediaLab@FAU

Mar 22, 2024

As spring break sizzles and summer looms ahead, the beaches of South Florida are ramping up their preparations to ensure beachgoers' safety after a recent tragedy in the Fort Lauderdale area.


On Feb. 20, a 7-year-old girl died at a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea after a hole she and her brother were digging collapsed on them. There are currently no ordinances in place for digging on that beach, and that goes for Boca Raton as well. Moreover, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea may be popular with tourists, but its beaches have no lifeguards on duty.

The accident and strict new rules put in place by Miami as a way of keeping spring breakers at bay have tourists seeing Florida through a slightly different lens this year. And lifeguards on duty in places like Boca Raton are keen to explain everything they are doing to keep beach-goers safe.

“It’s not explicitly in our city’s code, but we tell people the dangers of digging. We tell them not to dig too deep and to kindly refill it when they are done,” said Clint Tracy, a man in his early 50s who serves as the Ocean Rescue Chief at the City of Boca Raton.


“Yes, it’s a tragedy, but we make sure to give the people a heads up and hope they listen. There’s nothing new we can implement into our regulations that we’re not already doing,” added Tracy, who has been a member of the Boca Raton Ocean Rescue team for 30 years. “Our beaches run for miles. We’re sure to have more pressing matters to be aware of aside from people digging holes.”


For locals, the beaches serve as a beloved escape, providing a haven for relaxation, recreation, and community gatherings. Families gather for picnics, couples stroll hand in hand along the water’s edge, and fitness enthusiasts engage in activities such as yoga or beach volleyball.

Boca Raton and other cities along the coast rely on its ocean rescue teams to maintain safety along its coastline. Their presence ensures the well-being of beachgoers, from swimmers to sunbathers, across miles of sandy shores.


“The beach can get hectic at times for someone my age, but seeing the young guards, in shape and always around, gives me a sense of peace,” said Pierre Delagrave, a retiree from France, as he was enjoying the day on the beach with his wife. “It is one of the reasons why we always come back to visit.”

According to Visit Florida, in 2023, Florida received approximately 135.0 million out-of-state visitors. But this year cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale have implemented beach curfews, no alcohol policies, and measures to ensure no one is on the beaches when there are no guards. 

“I came down with a bunch of my friends last year for spring break and I had the best time ever so we decided why not do it again,” said Hannah Truglio, 22, who came from SUNY Albany to enjoy the warm weather. “This year though, we didn't know about the whole ‘Miami breaking up with spring break’ and all of these restrictions until we were already here which was very unfortunate.”

With spring break on and summer approaching, a spotlight is on the lifeguards who are entrusted with the job of keeping everyone safe and gearing up for increased beach activity. With tourists and locals expected to flock to the shores for relaxation and recreation, their responsibilities become even more crucial.

First and foremost, lifeguards conduct thorough equipment checks and maintenance procedures. From life-saving devices to communication systems, staff meticulously inspect every piece of equipment to guarantee optimal functionality. This approach minimizes the risk of equipment failure during critical moments, allowing lifeguards to intervene swiftly in emergencies.


Recognizing the heightened demand for their services during peak seasons, the Ocean Rescue staff extend their hours of operation by an hour and a half from March to November in Boca Raton. During these times, the organization seeks additional staffing, but Tracy said that this task is not easy.


“We make sure that the people we are hiring are in great shape both physically and mentally. It is required to swim 500 meters in the ocean in less than 10 minutes, have both a CPR and first-aid certification, and pass a written lifeguard training exam to be considered for the job,” said Chief Tracy. “And after all of that is done, only then will we interview you for the position.”


The Chief's emphasis on the rigorous qualifications for lifeguard candidates underscores the gravity of their role in ensuring beach safety in Boca Raton. But not all beachgoers see it this way.


Some overseas visitors view the job of a lifeguard as little more than babysitting and rule enforcement. 

“They only worry about when you are drinking or if you bring your dog on the beach at certain times in the day,” said Victor Depp, 43, from Germany, on vacation with his wife and two daughters. “And I think I’d help my girls quicker than they would. I’m closer.”


According to Tracy, Boca Raton Ocean Rescue follows the national rules of lifeguarding as well as Federal laws

“I get it, safety matters, but sometimes it feels like they’re taking the fun out of everything. I came here to get a tan, swim in the water and chill with my friends. But now it’s like we’re being bombarded with all these rules,” said Santiago Maya, 20, who traveled down from SUNY Cortland for his spring break. “It just doesn't seem fair.”

Tracy says there’s no reason that staying safe should stand in the way of having fun.

“We understand people come to the beach to have fun and not be bothered by lifeguards,” said Tracy. “But as long as you follow the rules and are respectful of the beach and the people around you, we don’t expect anything but another great season on the beach.”

Photo by Lukasz Jablonski via Unsplash

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