Standing beneath the hot, midsummer sun near Lifeguard Tower 2E on Waikiki Beach, its waters and sands teeming with tourists and residents, officials with the Honolulu Emergency Services Department announced the launch of a program increasing a lifeguarding presence for Oahu’s 227 miles of coastline throughout all daylight hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., starting Sunday.
The EMS Ocean Safety Division has 250 personnel and staffs 41 towers around the island every day, as well as a fleet of mobile response vehicles, from personal watercraft and all-terrain vehicles to trucks carrying rescue equipment.
“Our Lifeguards often stay late at the end of a work day that ends right now at 5:30 p.m., and they often are called to come in earlier than our current 9 a.m. start time,” said Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Services.
In this first phase of extended hours, lifeguard towers will continue to be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but officers in mobile response units will now be on duty for 12 hours a day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., ready to respond to lifeguard emergency calls.
Beginning Sunday, Ocean Safety will also increase the number of its land-based mobile response units from 16 to 24 units, deployed islandwide.
Ocean Safety records from the last three years underscored the need.
For the hours of 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., 141 ocean related 911 emergency calls occurred in 2019; there were 172 calls in 2020 and there have been 130 calls thus far this year.
From Jan. 1 through July 5 this year, 43 calls came in before lifeguards came on morning duty.
Given budgetary constraints, expanded mobile response was judged to be the most effective way to start implementing a law passed in late 2019, Ordinance 19-26, which requires the director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department to begin an all daylight hours lifeguarding program.
“We are confident that this is a good way to start,” said Honolulu Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen. “We want to remind the public that just because a tower is closed does not mean lifeguards are not on duty nearby; (they) can respond via truck or jet ski.”
Titchen urged the public to remember to call 911 for ocean-related emergencies.