OCBP manager: Don’t swim in the inlet

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Despite signs warning not to swim in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, swimmers still take their chances in the water. Despite signs warning not to swim in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, swimmers still take their chances in the water. OCEAN CITY — It’s been the mantra for professional lifeguards for generations: “Always swim near a lifeguard.”

While the city has expanded the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s hours at Eighth, Ninth and 12th street beaches until 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings and formed a rapid response team, providing four lifeguards on duty at the 12th Street headquarters until 8 p.m., a large swatch of strand on the island’s north end remains unprotected and unguarded at all times for a reason, OCBP officials say.

With powerful waves, white caps, dangerous currents, gullies and sandbars, the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, from the west side of New Castle Road to the beginning of the northern-most protected beach at the end of Waverly Boulevard, is far too treacherous to permit swimming at any time, OCBP operations manager Tom Mullineaux said.

“It’s very dangerous, but it becomes very hard to stop people from swimming there,” he said.

The OCBP’s nearly 170 lifeguards protect about 44 beaches throughout the summer, spread out over eight miles of beach. Guards are not posted at the inlet because the water is too dangerous to risk the lives of the guards or bathers, he said.  

“There are so many dangerous currents,” Mullineaux said. “We can’t permit swimming, it’s too dangerous.”

Bathers, he said, can be lulled into a sense of safety close to shore, but depending on the tide, a swimmer may be on solid ground and either take a step or be knocked off-balance by a wave and find themselves being swept away by a current. 

In July 2009, 19-year-old Josias Sterling of Philadelphia went swimming with a friend near the bridge when both teens were pulled into deep water.  One man battled strong tidal currents and arrived safely at the shoreline, but Sterling drowned.

“It’s a big stretch of beach, but it’s not protected and people shouldn’t be swimming there,” Mullineaux said. “We have a sign posted at every entrance not to swim there, we have posted warnings. Obviously the signs don’t mean anything to people.”

At low tide, the beach stretches nearly two blocks from homes along New Castle Road.

“The city doesn’t require beach tags there, maybe that’s why it’s popular,” he said. “It’s sort of away from everyone. It may be quiet, but it’s not safe. We can’t stress this enough, it’s hazardous and no one should be swimming there.” 

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