OCEAN CITY – Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean has always been free in Ocean City, but after City Council ruled Tuesday to ban night swimming, it may come with a fine post 9 pm.
Fire Department Chief Chris Larmore had asked the City Council to create an ordinance that would put restrictions on when people were legally allowed to enter the Atlantic Ocean, citing a recent “close call” last September when a late night rescue of three Canadian swimmers severely jeopardized the lives of two of his paramedic rescue team.
“For every hour it would be prohibited, it would decrease the probability of us having to go into the ocean and rescue someone. There are clearly certain hours that would help keep people out of the ocean. Right now, the public is not aware of the current ordinances, and we should do something that is specific to the ocean and it should be posted accordingly,” said Larmore.
The council agreed with Larmore and took the first steps to creating a new ordinance, voting unanimously to prohibit swimming in the Atlantic Ocean between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. of the following day, 365 days a year.
“I’m not so sure that there is any reason that anyone should be in the ocean anytime after dark,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “and I think that is the thing that really presents a problem for our first responders, is those hours of darkness which really create additional concerns and obstacles for rescue crews to overcome.”
There was a bit of deliberation from several members of the council to create an easy to remember but rather vague rule of banning swimming between sunset and sunrise, but after further talks, a specific timeframe was decided upon.
“I’d like to have a time in there so it’s specific. It’s like duck hunting,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “They say you can’t hunt for duck after sunset and before sunrise, but you hear the boom-boom-boom after the sun goes down and long before the sun comes up. Give me a time on there, so the police officers can tell people that are in the ocean, ‘hey no swimming after 9 p.m. and it’s 9:01.’”
There are currently two ordinances that deal with night-time activity on local beaches. According to City Solicitor Guy Ayres, one prohibits sleeping on the beach between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. of the following day, and the other prohibits being on the beach altogether from midnight to 5 a.m.
“When people enter into the surf, particularly after dark and when visibility is low and oftentimes when the surf is rather rough, I think the consensus is, and the totality of it, is that our people are really not trained to handle those types of rescues, said Ayres, “so our people are put at risk when they have to go into the surf to make night rescues. It is our recommendation to not limit access to the beach itself, but rather swimming be prohibited at certain times.”
This new ordinance will be drafted, and possibly amended before or during the first and second readings, in order to make sure the times are not too restricting for certain groups like the surfing or fishing communities.
“Let’s get it to first reading, and maybe the surfers or the beach patrol want to weigh in on this, and maybe we missed something that we didn’t think of, but at least we’ve got it to the next level,” said Hall.
The issue arose largely from an incident last year when two paramedics
Though no specific fine has been set at this time, Ayres said when the issue was first brought before the City Council in October that it could be a “an arrestable offense with a fine up to $1,000.”