Friday, July 8, 2016

Beach Safety

In Minnesota, “going to the lake” is a long-standing tradition in the summertime. Many cities have developed public water accesses into a formal swimming beaches. These areas are often a favorite spot for residents looking to take a swim. When a city owns and/or operates a swimming beach, risk management techniques need to be implemented to keep swimmers safe and minimize liability to the city.

The decision to employ lifeguards is up to the city. City liability is not automatically reduced if lifeguards are present, nor does the presence of lifeguards reduce the city’s liability insurance premium. However, if lifeguards are present and fail to enforce rules like no diving, the city’s liability may increase.

If lifeguards are employed by the city at a beach, they must be 16 or older (in contrast, the minimum age for a pool lifeguard is 15). In addition, lifeguards who are younger than 18 must be continually supervised by a lifeguard who is 18 years of age or older. Safety equipment available when a lifeguard is on duty should include the following: 

  • Sun umbrella
  • First aid kit
  • Communication (phone or radio)
  • Ring buoys or rescue tubes
  • Rescue boat
Some cities choose to use a beach volunteer or hire a beach attendant to supervise the beach area and report problems. Cities using a “beach attendant” still should post a “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign.
Park personnel should inspect the beach area on a regular basis during the open season.  As with every inspection, documentation is essential to ensure that there is a record of the inspection taking place. Documenting such inspections can benefit the city by illustrating that reasonable care was exercised in maintaining the beach.  Hidden hazards may naturally exist and vandals or weather conditions may create additional hazards that need to be addressed.
Obstructions, drop-offs, and trip hazards can be marked with a warning sign and/or eliminated.   It is important to inspect these areas in the off-season as well to identify hazardous conditions that may become snow-covered and create a hidden hazard.  Docks, lifeguard stands and other temporary features need to be stored in the off-season safely away from snowmobile trails, sledding hills, or other recreation activities.  Also, if you have permanent docks in place, make certain that the dock is well marked in the winter to avoid any accidents with snowmobile traffic on the lakes.
More information on beaches/docks and water safety can be found in our Parks and Recreation Loss Control Guide at:

By: Joe Ingebrand, Senior Loss Control Consultant