Mike Wagner, Beach Shore Services

Beach Services, Challenges and Clean up

 

May 10, 2021

 

Beach Shore Services (BSS), a private company was founded in 1974.  The current owners have owned the business since 1992.  Mike and the General Manager, Alan Reese are two of the most knowledgeable people about beaches on the island, often getting called as resources for beach information (e.g. ordinances).

 

BSS has a service agreement with the Town of HHI  and are responsible for beach matting, doggie bags, trash and the beach patrol.  They also have a franchise agreement for rentals of umbrellas and chairs.  The revenue from the rentals funds 95% of the company’s business.

 

The company is certified by the US Lifesaving Association and provides 80-90 lifeguards for the beaches annually.  The lifeguards are an international group with most from outside of the US.  Many are college swimmers on scholarships who speak English well.  (In the past many of the guards were on J-1 visas.)  Lifeguards begin the season in late March (usually 15-20 on duty at the beginning) and work through late October with the largest number beginning in May and leaving at the end of August.  During high season there are 70 guards on the beach at any time with the rest on breaks or having a day off.  The Town’s contract requires lifeguards from April 1st – September 30th.  The lifeguard test includes swimming 550 yards (1/3 mile) in 10 minutes.  May is the busiest month for the company since most of the staff is hired and trained during that month.

 

BSS also provides 10 trucks (ATV’s) and PWC’s (personal watercraft or jet ski) for water rescue.

 

Two employees drive through the beaches and pick up the trash each day.  The lifeguards begin their day by doing this too.  Trash is a growing problem, though not that there is so much junk on the beach, but rather the cans are filled quickly and large pieces such as broken umbrellas, chairs, and canopies are heavy and difficult to dispose of.  In the month of July 2020, the following were picked up on the beach:

  • 12,000 large bags (32 gallons) of trash
  • 424 canopies that are mostly broken and unfolded
  • 1674 chairs
  • 1000 umbrellas
  • 1600 other pieces such as body boards

 

In addition, there were over 10,000 instances of advice on ordinances, although there were likely many more, on the subjects of alcohol, trash, holes in the ground, and other issues.  There are also many lost people including both kids and adults (especially on busy days) with 610 lost people reported in July 2020.  Medical emergencies also occur including (in July 2020):

  • 21,000 jellyfish stings (700 a day)
  • 900 sting ray wounds
  • 1,700 cuts
  • many cases of heat exhaustion, many requiring calls to EMS

 

Challenges

  • Trash
  • Difficult beach goers – last year was especially difficult with people under stress from the pandemic and not being amenable to being asked to change behaviors.
  • Employment, especially housing, which has become quite challenging. Lifeguard housing costs have risen dramatically, and availability of any housing is low.  Housing needs to be short term.  Some Island employers are building space for their employees.  Sea Pines Resort is building a dorm as has JR Richardson.  Previously housing was $1500/month for 4 months but now the prices have gone as high as $5,000/month.  BSS may have to do that too.  One idea is to look at partnering with USCB using their dorm space during the summer.
  • Beach Access is sometimes difficult, with long distances between access points. Fixing this would require a great deal of redesign on the part of the Town.

 

Q&A

  • Hilton Head Island is fortunate that we don’t have rip currents like many other beaches. We do however have many jellyfish and sting rays.
  • Our “no alcohol” rules help with fraternity/sorority parties and other big groups.  Note that 20 year old men are the largest group of drowning victims.
  • We are having a growing number of day trippers from areas like Pooler, GA and Jasper and further out Beaufort County. Also, many smaller houses on the beach have been replaced by large units with big groups visiting.  All of this leads to much more crowded beaches.
  • Sea Turtles: BSS has a strong relationship with Turtle Patrol and they work together. This also includes finding dolphins, whales and birds on the beach that DSS buries.
  • Heat is a big challenge for the lifeguards.