Editorial | Rockaways drownings should lead to greater swim safety training, more lifeguards

Beach in Rockaways where two teens went missing due to rip tide
The area of Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways where two teens went missing in the water due to an apparent rip tide on June 21, 2024, police officials said.
Photo via X/@NYPDDaughtry

The Rockaways in Queens have some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. They are also some of the most tragic.

Every summer, a number of bathers wind up perishing on the Rockaway shores — drowning victims pulled under by infamous rip currents that prove too terrible to overcome. Last month alone, in the early stages of summer, two teenage boys were lost to the waves, taken by the tide from the sands of Jacob Riis Park into the deep.

These youngsters cannot be remembered as statistics. Their drowning must spark renewed action to protect swimmers around New York City, with both greater vigilance on the shore and greater knowledge of swim safety.

The city can start by heeding Queens Borough President Donovan Richards‘ call to extend lifeguard hours beyond 6 p.m. From now through Aug. 30, the sun in New York sets after 7:30 p.m., and beachgoers on a beautiful summer day will soak up every moment of sunlight they can before it gets dark. 

If the city can’t extend the lifeguard hours to dusk, then it should take up another suggestion from Richards: Boosting efforts to close the beaches at 6 p.m., and send beachcombers home.

This will require greater action from the NYPD and the Parks Department’s enforcement officers, and undoubtedly, it will lead to unwanted confrontations. Still, the strict closure of beaches after 6 p.m. will be necessary if the city cannot ensure lifeguards can be on duty past that time.

But long term, both the city and parents around town must do more to teach swim safety and help guard against tragedy at the beaches and in the pools.

The Parks Department currently offers an array of swimming instruction programs, but they are in high demand, and acceptance is often determined via lottery. Last year, the city enacted legislation that offers free swimming lessons to every second-grader in the city.

Despite the high demand for swim classes, every parent must make sure their youngsters know how to swim. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children between ages 1 and 4, and the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among children between ages 5 and 14.

The training taught at swim instruction classes can help save lives. It can help beachgoers in the Rockaways keep calm and stay alive if they find themselves caught up in a rip current, or pulled under water for any other reason.

It can help prevent a beautiful day at the shore from turning into a dark day of personal tragedy.

The Rockaways have seen enough mourning. Be safe on the shore, for your sake and your family’s.