Lifeguard hours may soon be extended on Oahu beaches

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People are at Oahu beaches from sun-up to sundown. But lifeguards are only on duty from 9a.m. to 5:30p.m. The City Council continues to support a new law that would extend ocean safety patrol hours, and save lives.

Thirty-five people drowned on Oahu in 2018. Twenty-one of them drowned during off-duty hours and more than half were Hawaii residents.

“The way the bill is written would save lives,” said Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen.

“What we would like to see are the hours from what’s called civil twilight to civil twilight . Civil twilight, by definition, is 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.”

Hanauma Bay lifeguards ran a pilot program working 10-hour shifts, four days a week with positive results.

Kymberly Pine, City Council member Kymberly Pine said the bill is important to the City and County of Honolulu.

“We just heard that Hanauma Bay has been implemented for just six months and drownings already decreased by 90 percent,” said Pine.

To be able to work the extended hours, ocean safety will need more lifeguards.

“The next step becomes adding those positions. They give us a little bit more flexibility to add a couple of rescue teams and begin to deploy in a way in which we achieve that coverage,” said Titchen.

Titchen said they are requesting 15 new lifeguard positions and funds for new equipment, like jet skis.

“If we have four to six minutes to get to that person to save a life, every tool that we have to improve that helps the division and I get it there’s a cost associated with that but we’re talking about saving lives.”

Pine told her fellow City Council members they need to approve this program to show Hawaii residents that they care.

“Six-hundred thousand dollars is nothing compared to our total budget so I’m offended if anyone says that we can’t afford to implement this program,” said Pine.

The City Council unanimously passed the second reading of the bill. It now goes to the city budget committee.

“I want to work with the budget chair to figure out how we’re going to pay for this because it really is a matter of priority, and I think we should make this a priority,” said City Council member Tommy Waters.

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