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Lifeguard Pilot Program Wraps up

The City of Carlsbad’s pilot lifeguard program on a three-quarter of a mile stretch of previously unguarded beach north of Oak Avenue wrapped up on Labor Day. The program has met its goals, according to City of Carlsbad Fire Chief Michael Davis. 

“We had lots of anecdotal evidence of beach activity in this area, but now we have actual data,” said Davis. “We were able to track beach usage patterns, the number of preventive contacts with the public, and the types of incidents that are most common.” 

The next step is for city staff to present a report to the City Council and seek direction on how to best meet public safety needs in this area. 

The city hired about two dozen part time seasonal lifeguards, who were supervised by existing Fire Department personnel with lifeguard training.  Since the program was implemented on a trial basis, no lifeguard towers were built for the summer season. The city purchased a four-wheel drive truck to patrol the beach.  Lifeguards were positioned on the shore at three locations, based on ocean conditions and crowds. 

Unlike other beach areas in Carlsbad, the beach from Oak Avenue to the city’s northern border is not managed by California State Parks Department and therefore has limited services.

Davis said prevention was a big focus on the program. Now that the program has wrapped up for the summer, Davis reminded beachgoers to use extra caution:

  • When at the beach, check conditions before entering the water.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Never swim after consuming alcohol, drugs or medication that could impair your functioning.
  • Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in and the around water. People should use any other type of floatation device unless they are able to swim.
  • Pay especially close attention to children, older people and anyone else who might need extra assistance. Even in shallow water, waves can suddenly sweep you off your feet.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current.  Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore. If you feel you can’t make it to the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving and calling for help.
  • If someone is in trouble in the water, call 9-1-1. 


On Feb. 28, the City Council asked staff to get input from the public and develop a plan to provide lifeguards and increased law enforcement services by summer. Based on community feedback and research on how other cities have provided these services, city staff presented a proposed pilot program to the City Council at its April 11 meeting. 

The pilot program had a budget of $300,000. 

The beach from Oak Avenue to the northern city limit is not part of the California State Parks system, which includes Carlsbad State Beach from around Pine Avenue South to Terramar and South Carlsbad State Beach from the state campground to the southern city limit. State lifeguards patrol these areas. In the north, property owners own the beach directly in front of their properties out to what is called the “mean high tide line,” which is generally where the water meets the sand during high tide. 

The City of Carlsbad maintains public easements on this property, which allow people to utilize the beach and the city to provide services. 

In recent years, the number of people using this part of the beach has increased, prompting safety concerns. The City of Carlsbad police and fire departments respond to emergency calls in this area but do not patrol the beach like lifeguards would. 

Community members have requested lifeguard services and expressed concerns about law enforcement in the north beach area on and off for years. The city held a public meeting and gathered input online this spring to ensure the pilot program reflected the community’s current priorities. 

During annual goal setting sessions the past few years, the Carlsbad City Council has made beach improvements one of its top priorities. City staff is working on a number of projects along the city’s nearly seven miles of coastline, including sprucing up the seven public beach entrances along Ocean Street and making them more visible. 

The city has already completed projects to widen bike lanes along Carlsbad Boulevard, improve the accessibility of the Ocean Street public parking lot, put new drought proof landscaping along the beach bluff north of Tamarack to prevent erosion and installed crosswalks with flashing lights to make it safer to cross Carlsbad Boulevard. 

Longer term projects include redesigning portions of Carlsbad Boulevard to ease traffic flow, make more room for walking and biking, and maximize access to the coast. 

Media Contact  
Kristina Ray, 760-434-2957 or kristina.ray@carlsbadca.gov

For More Information  
Call the Fire Department 760-931-2141, or email fire@carlsbadca.gov.

Source Documents and Related Information
April 11 staff report and presentation to City Council
Feb. 28 presentation to City Council
Other coastal improvement projects 


September 8, 2017