After being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Seal Beach’s Junior Lifeguard program is back for the summer of 2021.
Registration opens in April. Like many activities during COVID-19, the program is being modified based on government health and safety guidelines.
“We have made changes on how we’re going to keep the kids safe and socially distanced,” Seal Beach Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey said in a phone interview this week.
What’s different? Instead of being one seven-week session with 300 kids, the program is going to be split into two 4-week sessions with 150 kids in each session. This allows for smaller groups. Class sizes will be about ten children per instructor.
You won’t see the giant group of junior lifeguards crowded near the Seal Beach Pier this summer. They will be in smaller groups spaced out along the beach.
Children will also be given a face mask, according to Chief Bailey.
“It will be just as fun and just as hard and just as great but there will be some slight changes,” he said.
Session one will be from June 21 to July 16. Session two is from July 19 through August 13. The program will be still be held 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.
Returning participants from the 2019 program are given a priority in registration and can enroll starting April 5. (Sign up at register.sealbeachca.gov.) Seal Beach residents also get priority in registration and will pay $470 for each session, according to Chief Bailey. Non-residents will pay $500 per session. The costs are a nearly $100 decrease from past years. That’s due to the shorter sessions but also to staff adequately to maintain smaller groups for social distancing, according to Bailey.
Seal Beach’s Junior Lifeguard program, open to kids ages 9 to 17, dates back to 1985, according to the city’s website. It’s described as “a fun, but physically demanding, hands-on program that provides the participants with knowledge and appreciation for the ocean and its surrounding environment.” Children take part in open water swimming, surfing, beach games and more.
Joining junior lifeguards is like a rite of passage for children living near the ocean in Southern California. It’s where kids learn beach safety, how to escape a rip current and navigate the surf. Huntington Beach and Newport Beach also have programs.
To enroll in Seal Beach’s program, participants must pass a test by swimming 100 yards under a certain time depending on their age. Swim tests are conducted at the pool at J.H. McGaugh Elementary school. Children can take part in conditioning classes to prepare and train for the test.
This isn’t the first time Seal Beach’s Junior Lifeguard program had two sessions. That’s how it was prior to 1997, according to Bailey.
He said while having two sessions helps meet safety requirements now, it could also make sense post-COVID. “It works for my small lifeguard department,” Bailey said but added the program could also go back to one session in the future.
“Once we get through this summer we’ll reevaluate this whole thing,” he said.