Costa Ballena LifeGuards Program

Costa Ballena lifeguards program

Author: Brad Dean

Costa Rica has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. They are also some of the deadliest. Each year, on average, 50 people drown from the dangerous riptides that form along the shoreline. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for residents AND tourists in Costa Rica. Since the tide change can be as much as four meters in a six-hour period, what seems to be knee-deep water can be over a swimmer’s head only a few feet away.

The country does not have a national lifeguard program. If you see a lifeguard on the beach, they are paid through a private partnership with a local government or volunteers supported by the community.  Fundraisers or grants from local and international non-profits paid for the towers. The lifeguards had to pay out of their pockets to take the classes to be certified in ocean rescue, CPR, and first aid.

One of the first lifeguard programs to be supported by the local government is in the town of Dominical. In 2018, the Municipality of Osa offered to pay for four lifeguards under a three-year contract. The Association of Lifeguards of the Southern Zone won the contract and was given monthly funds for lifeguard salaries. However, the association still had to raise money to maintain the lifeguard equipment, uniforms, medical supplies, and administrative expenses. The business community, residents, and tourists contributed funds when needed each year. The muni extended the agreement until the end of 2022

In 2022, the association was awarded a $30,000 grant to rebuild the lifeguard tower in Playa Hermosa de Uvita. The donor was the Five Together Foundation, given through the help of Amigos of Costa Rica, both  501c3 non-profit organizations in the United States. They could purchase an all-terrain vehicle through crowdfunding to get to victims more quickly.

In the last two years, the lifeguards in Dominical and Playa Hermosa de Uvita made 43 rescues and, more importantly, 8,800 preventative actions, warning tourists and locals about the rip currents and where it was safer to swim and avoid them. They also applied first aid to victims injured by surfboards or sting rays over 40 times. Every day of the year, the lifeguards are in the towers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., watching over to protect swimmers and surfers. 

Costa Ballena LifeGuards Program

As of January 1st this year, the municipality hasn't been contributing funds, and after December 1st, there might not be lifeguards anymore because our accounts have run out. People will be in danger of dying. Last year, people were rescued. This year, what will happen?

At the national level, a committee has been formed, with representatives from the ICT, local government officials, and current lifeguard group administrators. They are working on a national standard to certify lifeguards for ocean rescues and a way to create and sustainably fund lifeguarding programs to protect more beaches. The progress is slow, and funding the program has to be ultimately approved by Congress. 

Costa Ballena LifeGuards Program
Costa Ballena LifeGuards Program

The crisis of not having enough qualified lifeguards to protect the beaches of Costa Rica needs to be solved as soon as possible. They are directly saving lives in our communities, and their presence makes it safer for everyone. Local municipalities and the ICT need to act now to fund lifeguards on public beaches that are shown to be dangerous for swimming. And more local hotels and rental property owners need to get involved to maintain safe beaches for their guests. Each rescue made by the lifeguards makes it an even more worthy investment. 

For more information on the lifeguard program on the Costa Ballena and to make a donation

https://.com/donations/ and to get involved email

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Posted in initiative, Costa Ballena.