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A day in the life of a lifeguard: Directing boats, lots of sunscreen, pulled pork and a gift

This year I started my second summer of lifeguarding, my first working for the Town of Shelter Island.

Last spring I got my CPR and waterfront lifeguard certification through the Red Cross courses offered by Southold Town and taught by Peggy Tuttle. I learned how to provide CPR and first aid; the proper way to survey the water; the different types of rescues; and then demonstrated my abilities in a final test in order to earn my certification.

This spring I was re-certified in CPR, which is required every year, and joined the Shelter Island Town team of nine lifeguards. Every day a group of three to four lifeguards watches each of the two lifeguard-attended beaches, Wades and Crescent.

Here’s what one day in the life of a Shelter Island lifeguard looks like.

8:30 a.m., Monday, July 5 Breakfast is a quick meal of a bagel and coffee as I gather everything I need for the day — a bathing suit, my lifeguard shirt, towel, sunscreen, beach chair, whistle and keys, lifeguard fanny pack (which includes a first aid kit and CPR mask) and water. I’m  out the door.

9:45 a.m. I arrive at Crescent Beach with the two other lifeguards and we set up for the day, unlocking the locker and bringing out the rescue tubes, umbrellas, backboard, paddle board, signs and emergency phone. I flip the sign on the lifeguard stand down to the “Lifeguard On Duty” side at 10 a.m. One lifeguard takes the stand while the other lifeguard and I relax in our chairs underneath. We take half-hour shifts on the stand to stay alert and make the day go faster.

The clouds and chilly air are still lingering from the weekend’s rain, so no one is swimming yet. But we’re expecting it to get busy, since it’s the last day of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

11 a.m. The clouds have begun to clear, and the sunshine brings the temperature up a few degrees, making for a good beach day. I switch with another lifeguard and take the stand for my half-hour shift to watch the few swimmers in the area enclosed by orange buoys. Some families have come down to the beach as the day progresses, so there are kids playing with beach toys and some in the water that I must watch carefully.

Noon I apply more sunscreen as the clouds vanish, and set up another umbrella next to the stand. We have to stay protected from the UV rays since we’re in the sun all day. Boats are starting to arrive at the beach to let off passengers, but they’re not going to the right space. Three boats come inside the white buoys that mark the line that boats are prohibited from crossing. I blow my whistle and try to tell them where to move, and one boat listens, but the other two remain inside the buoys. The bay constable shows up at just the right moment and directs the boats to the proper place to anchor, the right side of the beach. I’m relieved.

1 p.m. I use my lunch break to walk down Crescent Beach to the Roaming Islander, the Islander Restaurant’s food truck. There I get an iced coffee, a pulled pork sandwich, and an ice cream sandwich, and enjoy them while walking back down to the lifeguard area.

2 p.m. No one is swimming, with paddle boarders and kayakers making up the people in the water. We have to make sure they’re safe, but also that they don’t get too close to the swim area. A little girl comes up to the stand and asks if we’re the lifeguards. She then gives us each a rock as a present. I thank her for it and put it next to me on the stand with a smile.

3 p.m. The beach has filled up now, with umbrellas and people as far as I can see to my left. On my right, people are coming on and off the parked boats to enjoy the beach and go to the Sunset Beach restaurant and hotel. Some people are even enjoying massages. Despite a busy beach, only a few people are swimming.

4 p.m. The day is nearing a close, and the beach is still busy as ever. I move my beach chair back to sit in the shade, which has shifted. The osprey, whose nest is on the other side of the road, is flying above us now, looking for a fish.

5 p.m. As the day ends, we pack up everything we took out this morning and put it back in the locker. We take out the log book and write down the number of lifeguards and swimmers, weather and water quality. There are no injuries to report — a very good day — so we put it in the locker and lock it, putting the paddle board on top. I flip the sign down to say “No Lifeguard On Duty,” and say goodbye to my fellow lifeguards and the beach. Tomorrow is a brand new day.