Spring break 2023 brings major new safety changes to Myrtle Beach-area shores. What to know

Thousands of spring break visitors headed for the Grand Strand’s shores later this season are poised to enjoy safer waters after Myrtle Beach and county leaders rewrote long-standing life guarding policies.

On March 28, the city council is expected to alter contracts with providers John’s and Lack’s beach services, requiring each to discontinue a “dual role” model of coverage that has some lifeguards splitting their responsibilities between monitoring swimmers and handling equipment rentals.

The city’s revised deals, which would go into effect April 15 and run through September 2024 with John’s and September 2025 would split commercial and rescue duties.

Under the new contracts, providers would continue to hire and train lifeguards but hire additional staff to run rental operations.

The city council appointed beach advisory committee supports the revisions, which come on the heels of a $20.7 million civil verdict against Lack’s last summer. A jury ruled the dual role guard model contributed to the 2018 drowning death of Zerihun Wolde while on vacation.

“The family is most proud about the fact it (the lawsuit) affected change. And I’m so excited the summer is going to go on without dual role life guarding. That would have been terrible,” Chris Pracht, an attorney who represented Wolde’s estate, said March 27.

Horry County officials voted March 21 to scuttle the dual role system that’s long been in place along its nine miles of oceanfront.

New deals in place with George Lack and Garrett Todd through 2030 activate May 15 with strict guidelines, including:

  • Lifeguard services must remain separate from rental operations and identified by different-colored clothing

  • Rental operations staff may assist lifeguards in emergency situations as long as they are properly trained

  • Lifeguards will be fully staffed from 9 a.m. to 6 PM daily instead of two rover teams covering the beach from 5 p.m. through 7 p.m

  • Lifeguards will make it obvious when they are leaving the beach for the day at 6 p.m. Franchise fees will remain the same as the current agreement

  • Annual review of the franchise agreement fees

  • Umbrella spacing to include areas of 50 feet along with current 10 feet between groupings of ten umbrellas.

  • Thirty of the 50 feet will be for the public placement of umbrellas

In North Myrtle Beach, lifeguard services have been run in-house since 2006. It’s the only Grand Strand community currently certified through the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

The city hires roughly 100 lifeguards annually to cover 50 towers and nine miles of beachfront.

All are at least 16 years old, can swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less and have completed 70 hours’ worth of training in CPR and first aid. The city also hosts a junior lifeguard program for children between nine and 15.

Chris Brewster, a former USLA president, said Horry County and Myrtle Beach officials are setting up a safer future on their waterfronts by moving away from the debunked “dual role” life guarding method.

“I would expect that this change in both Horry County and Myrtle Beach will result in a significant improvement in beach safety,” he told The Sun News last month.