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«Authors: B. Chris Brewster Joe McManus James Hamilton McCrady V Giovanni J. Serrano REPORT AUTHORS B. Chris Brewster (brewster serves ...»

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Aquatic Safety Assessment & Recommendations

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Issued: February 27, 2008


B. Chris Brewster

Joe McManus

James Hamilton McCrady V

Giovanni J. Serrano


B. Chris Brewster (brewster@lifesaver1.com) serves as President of the United States Lifesaving

Association (www.usla.org), Lifesaving Commissioner of the International Life Saving Federation (www.ilsf.org), President of the Americas Region of the ILS, and Vice-President of the ILS. He is the former Lifeguard Chief and Harbormaster of the City of San Diego, with 22 years of service as a professional ocean lifeguard. He is a Knight in the Order of Lifesaving of the International Life Saving Federation, a Life Member of the United States Lifesaving Association, and a Life Member of the California Surf Lifesaving Association. Brewster is editor of Open Water Lifesaving, The United States Lifesaving Association Manual (2003), The United States Lifesaving Association Manual of Open Water Lifesaving (1995), Guidelines for Open Water Lifeguard Training and Standards (1993), and Guidelines for Training and Standards of Aquatic Rescue Response Teams (1996). He is a contributor to Lifeguard Effectiveness – A Report of a Working Group, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001), the Handbook on Drowning (2006), and Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments, issued by the World Health Organization (2005 and 2006).

Joe McManus (sepresident@usla.org) serves as President of the Southeast Region of the United States Lifesaving Association. He is a former Lifeguard Chief for Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City. He is a USLA Southeast Region Certification Officer and is a member of various USLA committees. He has been an Ocean lifeguard since 1974 and is currently a lifeguard supervisor for Indian River County, Florida.

James Hamilton McCrady V has been involved in aquatics for over 25 years. He is a two-time Past- President of the Southeast Region of the United States Lifesaving Association, as well as holding the regional offices of Vice President, Secretary, and Advisor. James currently holds the offices of Competition Director and Lifesaving Academies Director with the region, and serves as the chair of the USLA National Grant Writing Committee. He has been an ocean lifeguard for 22 years, most recently as a Lieutenant EMT for the Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue. In 2005, the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association awarded him with the title “Lifeguard of the Year” for the state of Florida. He is also the only two-time winner of the FBPCA’s “Presidents Award for Contributions to Ocean Lifesaving.” (2003 and

2007) Lt. McCrady has been a presenter at National Drowning Prevention Coalition’s National Symposium (2006), the Florida State Beach Safety Educational Workshop (2005), and served on the authoring committee of the “USLA Open-Water Swim Race & Triathlon Safety Guidelines (2004),” and “Training and Equipment Guidelines for Rescuers Using Personal Watercraft as a Rescue Tool (2004).” With B. Chris Brewster, he has also co-authored USLA “Aquatic Safety Assessment & Recommendations” for Santa Rosa Island and Destin, Florida.

Giovanni J. Serrano is a native of Puerto Rico and has been involved in aquatics for 11 years. He is currently a Lieutenant EMT for the Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue and a Medical Emergency First Responder Instructor. He was named “Lifeguard of the Year” in 2007 by the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association. He has served as Public Education Director for the USLA Southeast Region since 2005. In 2007 he worked on a partnership with Broward County’s Swim Central (see Appendix), and received a grant for water safety education at county schools. He has served as a presenter at the Florida Neighborhoods Association Conference, a workshop presenter and trainer in Quepos, Costa Rica, and recently authored a beach safety article for a local newspaper in Lauderdale by the Sea, where there are a number of drownings annually.

Aquatic Safety Recommendations Page 2 of 37 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico





Facts and Figures on Drowning in Puerto Rico

When Do Drowning Deaths Occur In Puerto Rico?

Where Do Drowning Deaths Occur?

When Do Beach Drowning Deaths Occur in Puerto Rico?

Drowning Deaths by Beach Location

What is the Residence of Drowning Victims?

Benefits of a Comprehensive Drowning Prevention Strategy

Benefits of Lifeguards


Public Education

Learn-to-Swim Programs

Junior Lifeguard Programs

Off-Site Public Education

On-Site Passive Public Education



Brochures and Kiosks

On-Site Active Public Education

Separating Incompatible Activities

Providing Lifeguard Services

Creating Protected Areas

Periods of Operation

Times of Operation

Staffing Levels

Staffing Locations

Observation Points




Responsibility and Management

Recruiting and Retension of Lifeguards

Public and Private Protection Options


EMS Agreement



General Fund Monies

Tourism Occupancy Taxes

Beach Services

Junior Lifeguard Program


To the Governor of Puerto Rico

To the Attorney General of Puerto Rico

To the Puerto Rico Interagency Beach Board

To the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources

To the Secretary of Education

To the Secretary of Health

To the Superintendent of Police

To the Institute of Forensic Sciences of Puerto Rico

Aquatic Safety Recommendations Page 3 of 37 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico To the Puerto Rico Tourism Company

To the Hotel Association

To the Director of Sea Grant Puerto Rico

To the Secretary of Sports and Recreation

To the National Parks Company

To the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs

To the Mayors of All Municipios with Oceanfront


APPENDIX ………………………………………………………………………………………………... 37 Et Seq.

–  –  –

Drowning death in Puerto Rico occurs throughout the year. There is no single “season” for drowning. Over 80% of drowning victims are Puerto Rico residents. Most Puerto Rico drowning deaths occur at ocean beaches and in rivers.

There are a wide variety of methods that can be used to improve aquatic safety throughout Puerto Rico. To be successful, the issue must be addressed comprehensively. Public education is the first step. This includes education of residents, including learn-to-swim programs, and education of tourists. To be effective, public education must be pre-planned and implemented long before people visit aquatic areas.

Since people will wish to swim regardless of the dangers, and since even the best swimmers can be victims of drowning, it is essential to staff desirable and convenient beach locations with properly trained and equipped lifeguards, thus offering protected areas for swimming. While lifeguards are presently provided in a few beach areas of Puerto Rico, none are trained to recognized national standards. Some of the most hazardous beach areas in Puerto Rico have no protection whatsoever, while less hazardous areas are staffed with lifeguards. A process must therefore be implemented to identify the areas of greatest need and to take necessary steps to make them safer.

The Puerto Rico Interagency Beach Board should take a lead role in addressing this issue, since drowning occurs predominantly at the beach. However, addressing this issue in a comprehensive manner will involve leadership from a variety of sectors, including the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of Health, Secretary of Education, Superintendent of Police, Commissioner of Municipal Affairs, Department of Natural Resources, Tourism Company, Hotel Association, National Parks Company, Sea Grant Puerto Rico, and the Mayors of the oceanfront municipios.

By implementing the specific recommendations which can be found at the end of this report, Puerto Rico can significantly reduce the incidence of drowning, while enhancing quality of life for the residents of the Commonwealth and protecting its vibrant tourist industry.

Aquatic Safety Recommendations Page 5 of 37 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico


The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, surrounded by beautiful beaches, is one of the most attractive areas to live or visit in the world. It is no wonder that it is popular with tourists, both as a destination and as an embarkation point for nearby Caribbean islands. Aquatic areas are an integral aspect of Puerto Rico’s rich offerings, but like all aquatic areas, they harbor hazards that can prove deadly. Such hazards can be managed, but at the present time there appears to be no comprehensive aquatic safety plan. Deadly accidents are therefore an ongoing reality.

Why should Puerto Rico be concerned about drowning and aquatic safety? Like any form of accidental death, drowning results in early death of local residents and visitors. It has serious economic and emotional impacts on families and society. A reputation for unsafe beaches has negatively impacted tourism in a number of localities around the world, reducing income from tourism and this may well be a result in Puerto Rico. The fact is that first class beach tourism destinations with known hazards provide protected areas for aquatic recreation.

At the invitation of Ruperto Chaparro, Director, Sea Grant Puerto Rico, the authors of this report visited Puerto Rico during the period of December 9 – 14, 2007 with the intention of reviewing and making recommendations on improving aquatic safety. Sea Grant reimbursed approximately 60% of the expenses of the authors and the United States Lifesaving Association’s Southeast Region reimbursed some additional costs. The authors have donated their time and expertise, as well as some personal funds, both for the visit and in the development of this report.

A major aspect of providing quality advice has involved not only the authors’ existing expertise, but also a thorough understanding of the local circumstances. During this visit, the authors traveled extensively and conducted on-site inspections of much of Puerto Rico’s coastline, meeting with lifeguards, park managers, and local residents. The following is a list of some of

the beaches we visited:

–  –  –

Aquatic Safety Recommendations Page 6 of 37 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico On December 13, 2007, the authors met with the Puerto Rico Interagency Beach Board (Junta Interagencial para el Manejo de Playas) and presented preliminary findings. This provided an

opportunity to discuss the issues and to receive input from those in attendance. They included:

Javier Velez Arocho, Secretary, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Ruperto Chaparro, Director, Puerto Rico Sea Grant Javier Gonzalez, Department of Sports and Recreation Mercedes Rodriguez, Office of the Commissioner of Municipal Affairs Inspector Jaime Rodriguez, Police Department Diana E. Perez, Puerto Rico Planning Board Lourdes Diaz, Puerto Rico Tourism Company Carmelo Vazquez, Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board Ramon L. Nieves, Puerto Rico National Parks Company (CPN) Mildred Matos, Puerto Rico National Parks Company (CPN) Cesar Guerrero, Puerto Rico National Parks Company (CPN) Jaime Cabrera, Puerto Rico National Parks Company (CPN) Elliut De Jesus, Puerto Rico National Parks Company (CPN) Judy Galib, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) This is not an official report of the United States Lifesaving Association. It is an effort by the authors to provide those concerned with beach safety in Puerto Rico with the best available information and advice to achieve the goals of promoting aquatic safety throughout the Commonwealth. No advice or action can ensure 100% safety or protection, but prudent steps can greatly heighten the level of safety. Thus, this report is not a warranty, but rather advice of professionals with a proven record in this discipline.

Aquatic Safety Recommendations Page 7 of 37 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico BACKGROUND Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It affects certain populations, such as youth, disproportionately. However, effective efforts in many countries of the world have demonstrated that the incidence of drowning can be dramatically reduced through a variety of measures, some of which have low or no cost.

The primary goal of the authors of this report is promotion of aquatic safety and drowning prevention. We believe that any responsible community, which promotes its beaches for tourism, has an obligation to ensure a reasonable degree of public safety on those beaches. In that regard, we agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has stated, “… if a community develops water recreational facilities to attract patrons who spend money in the local area, then it can be argued that the community has an obligation to protect these patrons. When weighing the costs and legal implications of interventions to prevent drowning, decision makers should never lose sight of the enormous importance of protecting people from harm and preventing tragedy at beaches and pools, places where people go for pleasure, for health, and for solace.” 1 In the ideal, aquatic safety plans are made before accidents can occur, to prevent their occurrence in the first place. Since this is not always possible, studying drowning deaths can facilitate an understanding of the problem. In doing so, there is a need to know, for example, where they happen, so that those areas can be prioritized. There is a need to know what time of year they occur, so that resources can be concentrated appropriately. And it is helpful to know if identifiable populations are disproportionately affected, so that prevention efforts can be targeted.

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