Mark Jamieson, an Ocean City native, learned to respect the ocean early on in his life. He recalls making his first of many rescues at the young age of twelve when he was out in the water with friends and recognized someone was in danger. Many of his uncles and cousins were lifeguards on Absecon Island at the time and had taught him what to look for. “The ocean is powerful. It can carry you 50 yards in a matter of seconds, without you even realizing it,” says Jamieson. “The ocean can be your best friend, but it commands respect.”
Jamieson became an Ocean City lifeguard when he was 16 years old. He attended Montclair University after graduating from Ocean City High School in 2000. Each summer, Jamieson came home to keep watch on his beach. As a younger lifeguard, he was assigned 8th and 9th Street beaches. Both were well known for being heavily populated. “You could easily have a thousand people on your beach at any given time. It was a big responsibility,” reflects Jamieson.
Jamieson graduated Montclair University with a Bachelor’s degree in physical education and health. Soon he will be starting his tenth year teaching physical education at Egg Harbor High School, where he is also the Head Boys and Girls Swim Team Coach.
Currently Jamieson is the Ocean City Beach Patrol Operations Chief. His responsibilities include developing annual budgets and protocols, staffing, daily operations and upholding the stellar record the Ocean City Beach Patrol has upheld over it’s 118 years in existence.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol first formed in 1898, less than 20 years after the island’s founders, the Lake Brothers arrived in 1879. Ocean City quickly began to boom in the late 1800s, but there were several drownings as people ventured into the ocean. Consequently, the first Ocean City Beach Patrol formed. Three men were hired to protect the bathers. Today, 188 men and women protect Ocean City’s eight miles of beaches. No one has ever, in all these years, drowned on their watch.
Jamieson believes the Ocean City Beach Patrol has been and is so effective because they take a preventative approach, often creating a perimeter around a safe zone for swimmers. ” When someone is getting close to a dangerous area, we are there before it becomes an emergency because we know what can happen in that area. For example, there may be rip currents or structures that can create dangerous man-made currents. We are trained what to look for. When there is an emergency we can respond automatically, without hesitation,” says Jamieson.
Although there has been 28 reported drownings along New Jersey beaches this year, Jamieson points out that these are occurring on unguarded beaches or before or after lifeguards hours. Ocean City has not seen a spike in rescues and Jamieson reports it is a pretty typical summer thus far.
Ocean City’s population swells to approximaely 150,00 during the peak summer months. “We are dealing with a huge population with diverse medical conditions,” comments Jamieson. “Heat related issues are common. It is very important to stay hydrated when you go to the beach.”
With Shark Week growing in popularity, some beach goers are wondering what is swimming in the water with them. “We typically only see four foot or smaller sand sharks and skates, a lot of skates” says Jamieson. “We have not had to pull any swimmers out due to sealife.” Skates are carilaginous fish belonging to the ray and shark family. However, they are typically smaller than stingrays and do not have stinging barbs on their tail. They are completely harmless bottomfeeders.
As the second half of August approaches, Jamieson faces new challenges. Many of his staff will be heading back to college. “Lifeguards are often atheletes, required to leave even earlier than other students for training camps. It becomes increasingly challenging to keep all the beaches guarded,” says Jamieson. After Labor Day a limited number of beaches will remain open through the third Sunday in September. For a full listing of those beaches go to ocnj.us. For decades Jamieson made rescues and guarded Ocean City’s beaches. Now, as Chief, he is using his expertise to staff, develop protocols and train a new generation of guards that are protecting thousands of swimmers each day.
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