Mike Melenchuk stopped being a certified lifeguard about a decade ago, but as the executive director of the Nova Scotia Lifesaving Society, he's still keeping his feet wet. He tells The Coast that since he first started patrolling beaches like Rissers, Rainbow Haven and Aylesford Lake, drownings have decreased significantly in the province at both oceans and lakes.
"It's gotten a lot better. When the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service started in the '70s, this province used to see 30 to 40 drownings a year, and now, knock on wood, many years we see fewer than 10 in this province," he says.
Part of that can be chalked up to more people taking swimming lessons, but also to better-trained lifeguards who have the right equipment and are stationed at more beaches than they were decades ago.
"There's more supervised beaches and opportunities to be safe than there ever has been," says Melenchuk. "Just for the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service...it was either six or eight beaches that they started off with. This year it's 15 or 16."
But even with the right equipment and training, lifeguards face challenges at some of the bigger beaches in the province. "A lifeguard in a pool is probably only at most 25 metres away from you. Here at Birch Cove, the lifeguards might be in that chair, and if you're having difficulties down at the point, that's 100 metres or more away," says Melenchuk.
The former lifeguard adds it's most important to be aware and vigilant about how close you are to the water, especially if it's at a beach with tides that could change on a dime. "Most people that drown, they never meant to be in the water. You were on a boat or you were watching the waves and all of a sudden you got swept out. The intention was, I'm just going to put my feet in the water. And at some of our big surf beaches, putting your feet in the water means that you are in a dangerous place," he says.
After putting in 15 years working as a lifeguard, Melenchuk now spends his days taking his own two young sons to beaches. "It's always great as a parent that I get into the water first to make sure that I know, is there a drop off somewhere," he adds.
Lifeguards from the municipality and the Lifesaving Society are on duty until 6 pm daily until August 31 at three pools, five ocean beaches, and 19 different lakes in HRM.