Island community considers more lifeguards along beaches

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MANATEE COUNTY - Anna Maria Island beaches don't have enough lifeguards according to one city commissioner. In fact, there are calls for the construction of 12 new manned lifeguard towers along the island's beaches.

Two recent drownings on the island -- including one Saturday -- happened at sections of beach that do not have lifeguards. Hiring lifeguards to watch over more of the island's beaches would cost a lot of money, but some worry that bad news chasing tourists away from beaches could cost a lot more.

At least once a week, Victoria Denton says she drives from Dade City to Anna Maria Island. She loves the beach, but never forgets the danger. “The current caught me, and the next thing I know, I was literally drifting out, and couldn't pull up. And that's when a lifeguard came out and said, 'you gotta swim parallel,' and helped me back to shore.”

That experience as a teenager taught her a lesson she still follows when she brings her kids to the beach. “We don't go directly to the beach shore or where it's convenient to get to the bathhouses.” Instead, she says, they set up near the lifeguard shack.

"Always go to a guarded beach and swim near the lifeguards," says Capt. Joe Westerman of the Manatee County Marine Division.

But not everyone does. Twice since April, a boy playing in the water has gotten caught in a rip current that sweeps him out to sea.

“These things can happen basically at any time, and that's what we try to warn people," says Manatee County Sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.

Only two beaches on the island have lifeguards. Most of the roughly seven miles of gulf shoreline leave people to fend for themselves. Some beaches warn people away from the water. But should lifeguards patrol more of the others?