Our History

  • Apr 30, 2010
  • Marine Rescue

A look at our humble beginnings all the way to our modern day response capabilities.

How We Began

The Marine Rescue Division, as we know it today, developed from humble beginnings in the Parks and Recreation Department around 1958. The County employed only a few lifeguards, at this time, and they were stationed at Manatee Public Beach. Over the years, the need to increase the number of lifeguards became evident when, in 1962, the County opened Coquina Beach (located at the southernmost tip of Anna Maria Island). The staff expanded, but these lifeguards had no real "formal" training and relied solely on their own skills as swimmers and surfers. Allotted only bare necessities (a torpedo buoy and maybe a surfboard), lifeguards were stationed on moveable "chair-style" stands to watch over the small numbers of beach goers that either lived on Anna Maria Island or visited this secluded community.

These men were some of the last "old school" lifeguards and were recognized as true "watermen." A combination of swimmer, surfer, diver and "outdoorsman" they loved to be in, on, or near the water and were often seen catching their dinner from the waters off of Anna Maria Island. The job didn't pay well but afforded those that did it some public recognition and, more importantly, time to be around the water.

The Old Days

Times changed and so did the training requirements for lifeguards. The American Red Cross and YMCA were the organizations that trained people in lifesaving and swimming instruction and their curriculum became the standard for persons wanting to become lifeguards or swim instructors. Certifications in courses such as Advanced Life Saving, first-aid and CPR were required in order to become a lifeguard. First-aid equipment was carried in small "lunch style" coolers. In this "kit" were the basics like Band-Aids, gauze pads, white medical tape, hydrogen peroxide and alcohol. If you were lucky, you were able to get meat tenderizer or vinegar for jellyfish stings.

In case of emergencies, communications to police or medical agencies was done by pay phone.  Back then, there were only 3 phones on Coquina Beach (nearly a mile long) and 2 phones at Manatee Public Beach (located on the parking lot side of the concession stand.  The familiar 911 number, used today, was not in use in Manatee County back then and the call was not free.  Lifeguards were required to keep dimes taped inside the lid of their first aid coolers and written on the tape was the telephone number for police and EMS dispatch. If the need arose, the lifeguard would tear off the tape (with dime attached) and instruct one of the bystanders to call the number on the tape and give the operator as much information as possible, then come back to the scene.

How We Look Today

Public Education
Public Education

Even more has changed since the old days.  Our beach lifeguards are now equipped with modern medical and rescue equipment, state-of-the-art communications, as well as,  advanced skills and education.  Now, the Marine Rescue division is a part of the Public Safety Department.  It has been developed to serve in an active capacity with capabilities and responsibilities that make us a model for other lifesaving agencies in the state.  Marine Rescue is an expanding and adapting division designed and dedicated to better serve the present and future needs of our public. 

The development of Marine Rescue resulted from the merger of the original lifeguard program, from the Parks and Recreation Department, into the Public Safety Department and represents years of development and improvements.  Our personnel serve the public in many capacities, ranging from general beach information, public education presentations, minor first aid to advanced rescue capabilities and ordinance enforcement. 

Combine our capabilities with the county's EMS system and it represents an elevated level of emergency care and life support that set trends in lifeguarding in the state.
Many of the full time staff have advanced first aid or EMT experience and all are required to endure rigorous physical training and testing.