New Laguna Beach lifeguard boat will make rescues offshore safer – Orange County Register

With warmer weather creeping in and crowds arriving to enjoy Laguna Beach’s picturesque coves and shoreline, the city’s Marine Safety Department is gearing up for a busy summer and has a new boat to help make offshore rescues safer.

“We’re reinstating a new program that’s been dormant for 30 years,” Capt. Kai Bond said about a boat the department received in April. “We cover 7.5 miles of beaches. If a lifeguard has an offshore response, it closes the 7.5-mile gap where in the past we relied on mutual aid response for a vessel.”

Enter Wave Watch, a vessel once used by the state that has been overhauled – thanks to a private $50,000 donation from two longtime Laguna Beach residents – with a new engine, communications systems, and emergency gear for the Laguna Beach lifeguards. The 33-foot Crystalline vessel will have a crew of two: a boat operator and a lifeguard who responds to rescues and also serves as the deckhand.

The boat will be ready to patrol the shoreline by the end of the month. Its addition is just what the town’s lifeguards need, Bond said.

A year ago, the city’s lifeguards took over monitoring South Laguna beaches from the county, adding 2.5 more miles of sand to their watch.

Within those miles are some of the town’s more treacherous beaches, including Camel Point, Laguna Royale, West Street, Table Rock and Thousand Steps, several of which have steep, awkward access to the beach because they are surrounded by high cliffs. Rescues happen frequently and the new vessel will provide quicker response and a more stable platform to load patients for emergency treatment, Bond said.

Each year, more than 6.5 million people visit Laguna Beach, with most seeking relaxation and fun at the beach – but swimming in the area can be trickier than some expect.

“Our beaches are treacherous, especially when you consider that in South Laguna, there were 2,300 rescues last summer,” Mayor Sue Kempf said. “On some beaches, the surf can be really high. People come from inland and jump into the water and sometimes end up in trouble. This boat can go 40 mph, and with 7 miles of beaches, it can cover a lot of territory quickly.”

Bond said the Marine Safety Department made 7,729 rescues citywide in 2023.

The new boat, he said, will increase overall safety for swimmers being pulled out to sea and the lifeguards performing the rescues.

“What makes Laguna Beach beautiful is also what makes it dangerous,” he said.

“The boat will improve overall response times, which ultimately improves the outcome for the patient,” he said. “We’ll be able to do lifesaving services faster. Traffic is tough here and the geography, some of it is difficult to access. This allows us to get there faster.”

Among the more difficult beaches to monitor are those  in South Laguna from near 10th Avenue to Goff Island and Cove, which are near the Montage Resort.

In 2020, four lifeguards were honored by the City Council for their lifesaving efforts in the cold and choppy water after they used a paddleboard to bring a teenager in trouble through high, churning surf.

“We’re unlike Newport Beach and Huntington Beach because we have lots of isolated coves,” Bond said. “It will be much more efficient to get there. Also, when you have a rescue vessel, it doesn’t require you to return the rescue victim back to the beach. With the vessel, the victim can be assessed and, if needed, be taken to an adjacent harbor.”

The boat will also help with search and rescue operations, which will be able to deploy dive teams more safely.

“It also allows us to intervene when a vessel runs aground,” he said, referring to Victoria Beach where a sailboat was recently slammed against rocks and broke into pieces.

“We can tow them to a safer location,” he said, “so they don’t later become an environmental emergency.”

The community is invited to watch the christening of the boat at 9 a.m. on May 24 at Marina Park.

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