Life On The Beach: If I Wanted to Babysit

What lifeguards are paid to do versus what we're expected to do

Jun 20, 2011

Swimtastic Corporation

At the beaches, we have rules. As the old saying goes, “rules are meant to be broken.” Tweet-tweet! Don’t even think about it.

One of the most important rules of the beaches is regarding accompanying children. We make it clear to everyone that children under five must be actively watched and within reaching distance of an adult 16 years or older. Children under eight must be actively watched and within 10 yards of an adult 16 years or older. But what exactly is “actively watching”? As quoted from our Lifeguard Handbook, “Actively watching means to maintain constant visual contact with your child, without distractions, such as phone conversations, chatting with friends, reading, tanning, picnicking, etc.” It honestly amazes me how many times this rule is ignored and broken.

Last summer alone, we saw countless children—some in diapers and unable to talk, let alone swim—playing in the water while their parent(s) sat up on the beach or in the grass. I had one incident where I carried a toddler around for almost three minutes until the mother claimed him. I’m no child-rearing expert, but I’m pretty sure this is frowned upon.

My first save of last season was in 12.5 feet of water at the pool. A six-year-old girl jumped off the diving board while her mother slept in the grass. I grabbed her and she looked at me and said, “I can’t swim.” My thoughts at the time would be written as hash tags, @ signs and exclamation points. Who does that?!

It’s true. We’re qualified and paid to save lives. We guard patrons, we advise them, we inform them of the rules, we punish them when necessary. What we don’t do is babysit. If I wanted to babysit, I’d get paid much better to nanny for some family in the Vilas neighborhood or out in Cottage Grove. Parents can’t expect to drop their kids off at the beaches or pool while they go run errands or have their “alone time.” It doesn’t work like that. We should be there as back up.

You brought this child into the world, make sure they don’t leave it in the water. If they start going under, you, the parent, should be the first one to notice and take action. The American Red Cross requires a lifeguard to patron ratio of 1:50. The City of Madison maintains a ratio of 1:30. Assuming you aren’t the Duggers with 30 children, odds are you’re going to see your own child drowning before a guard does, no matter how attentive they are.

I, a 21-year-old, shouldn’t have to tell you, a parent, to watch your kids. I don’t want to be put in that position and you don’t want to be called out on being a sucky mom or dad. Just avoid the whole thing and take care of your responsibilities, otherwise known as children.


See more Life On The Beach posts here, and read more about Madison's lakes on our Crazy4Lakes page.

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