Taking beach safety to the next level

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SOUTH WALTON, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The training never stops for South Walton Lifeguards as seven senior guards become jet ski certified.

For the past four days, a group of South Walton lifeguards have been training and practicing to add a personal watercraft certification to their skill set.

"'It's important for the senior guards to know and be able to lead the crew on rescues pertaining [to], you know, high surf, any kind of search and rescues, Code X kind of stuff like that," Senior Guard Meagan Ritacco said.

"This is actually based off the USLA's [United State Lifesaving Association] nation curriculum so it is nationwide. It's based off the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association is where it originated and it's been adopted for the United State Lifesaving Association," USLA trainer Glen Kuehner said.

This 40-hour course gives lifeguards the basic tools and skills necessary to utilize a jet ski as a rescue tool in case they are ever called to duty.

"Not only for their own safety, so we teach them the right ways to perform rescues out here and for us as a beach safety program, it allows us to be able to cover more ground and more areas of the beach in the water more efficiently," SWFD Lifeguard Supervisor Colin Perlaky said.

"On some of the bigger days and days where it is more extreme to get out in the surf conditions, double red flags when people aren't paying attention to the flags, this is a tool for us to be able to get out quicker, faster and sometimes be able to pick up multiple victims in terrible surf conditions," Kuehner said.

"You have an 800 pound machine that you have to control. It's not just a board or non-mechanical equipment so there is a lot of different aspects to it," Ritacco said.

Covering a total of 26 miles of beach, the advantage of using a jet ski gives them a leg up against mother nature.

"We want them to be able to be confident on the jet ski and know how it moves through the water and how to navigate the water as well as coming up to a victim and how to properly secure the victim safely and get them returned back to shore," Perlaky said.

"They're going to be able to operate it in confined spaces. They're going to be able to operate it around victims. They're going to be able to operate it from around vessels that are sinking and they may have rigging and debris floating around and their objective, obviously, is to not make any situation any worse than it already is, hopefully to correct that bad situation," Kiehner added.

Trainees said not all rescue scenarios are going to happen on nice, warm, sunny days, so although this week was cold and windy, it gave them a variation of weather conditions to prepare for.