Save our lifeguards so they can save you!
December 8th, 2009 by Zoe

The Cocles Lifeguard Project – What it is and why you should support it

Phase 1: Tragedy prompts action

The statistics could have made grisly headlines:
“5 people drown in 8 days on spectacular but deadly Cocles beach.”

Those tragic deaths around Easter 2001 on Cocles beach galvanized a few individuals into action to help prevent further loss of life. Dean, a lifeguard from the Baywatch beach area of USA and his girlfriend Rosario, organised a group of lifeguards, funded by local donations. The initial goal was to maintain one lifeguard per day. And so the Cocles Lifeguard project was born.

Phase 2: Training & Problems!

In 2002 Eddie Ryan and Charlie Wanger became involved, taking over from the founders. This second phase involved the National Association of Costa Rica Lifeguards, training local candidates to a professional level of expertise involving extensive in-water training and 1st Aid.

Cocles Lifeguard project funded half the cost of the lifeguard training course and candidates paid the remaining half in the understanding of employment once qualified. Seven candidates were trained.

However, things did not go smoothly. Three experienced lifeguards from the Central Valley (sent to Puerto Viejo to assist new candidates) became dissatisfied with the housing conditions and meagre salary, whilst the association wanted to take over the programme. Midway through the first collection drive the association lifeguards left town with the donations and over $US 2000 of equipment!

So it was back to the drawing board…

Phase 3: 2003 to Present situation.

The current program was initiated 25th August 2003. This involves a team of 3 lifeguards working a shift system, so that there are 2 lifeguards present from 09.00hrs to 17.00hrs each day, 7 days a week.

The administration is still voluntarily undertaken by Eddie Ryan but encouraging and obtaining adequate donations to fund the project remains a constant struggle.

The Financial Picture.

Despite a list of approximately 70 business donors, Cocles Lifeguard project has a current deficit of Colones 50,000 and operates at a loss of Colones 125,000 monthly. Although a certain number of businesses donate willingly and regularly, some cannot be relied upon to consistently contribute. From the 70 businesses currently listed only 31 have consistently contributed during 2009. Obviously this reflects important lost revenue with far reaching consequences.

Cocles Lifeguard ProjectThe minimum monthly bill for running Cocles Lifeguard service now stands at approximately Colones 660,000. If the lifeguards can expect a small salary increase and in accordance with labour law would be paid Aguinaldo, Socio Seguro and Riesgos de Trabajo, the monthly bill would increase to approximately Colones 750,000.

The expenses can be broken down as follows:
• Salaries of Lifeguards: Currently paid Colones 11,000 per day. Lifeguards are responsible for their own Riesgos de Trabajo, Aguinaldo and Socio Seguro.
• Donations Collector: Paid 7% of donations collected.
• 1st Aid kit & Equipment: Incidental expenses for replacing 1st Aid supplies and equipment such as flags, fins and flotation boards.

So what does that mean for our Lifeguard Service?

We need your help!
• Local business and individuals are encouraged to contact Eddie Ryan at La Costa de Papito to pledge regular support.
• Visitors and others who would like to make a one time donation can also do so by contacting Ryan or with a credit card on the Puerto Viejo Satellite donation page. Puerto Viejo Satellite will cover the credit card fees so that 100% of your donation will be passed onto the program
• Watch here for information on the Christmas donations drive

Due to the financial deficit, the lifeguard service was forced to cut back to 1 lifeguard per day instead of the required pair. The remaining 2 lifeguards of the team were laid off due to the inability to pay them. By laying them off for two months the project anticipated using the saved salaries to reinstate the full team for the busy month of December.

On 1st December 2009 the service was able to operate normally again with 2 lifeguards on duty.

A real problem here is that if these two qualified lifeguards cannot be permanently re-employed it is probable that they will find other work and become unavailable. Without a team of 3 lifeguards, the service is severely compromised.

An important point to remember is that it takes 2 lifeguards to offer a rescue service. A single lifeguard can only offer preventive services, due to the significant danger of rescuing a swimmer in trouble.

In conclusion, that means that our Lifeguard service is severely compromised and the lifeguards lack job security despite their commitment and the significant level of responsibility demanded of them.

Surfer Cocles BeachA Noble Project.

Cocles beach is not only well known for exciting surfing (and strong rip tides) but also well documented in numerous travel guides/websites. Consequently it is visited by a large volume of people, locals and visitors alike. Wherever visitors are staying they are likely to spend some time on Cocles beach, if only because everyone from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo travels past it at one point or another and it is so immediately accessible. For an area such as this where survival depends on healthy tourism numbers, the need for a lifeguard service is obvious.

In conversation with Eddie, it was clear how committed he is to maintaining this invaluable service and his belief that it could be expanded to increase the safety at beaches from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo. Justly proud of this service, he stated that this is the only community in Costa Rica that has kept a lifeguard programme running for so many years. Though there have times when Eddie felt like giving up on the problematic administration of the service, just last December Costa de Papito’s bartender got into serious difficulties at Cocles beach. He was rescued by the lifeguards and lived to swim another day.

Lifeguards have rescued more than 1,500 swimmers at Cocles beach since the service began. That is a lot of lives that have been saved. Estimates of how many deaths have been prevented run into the thousands.

Save our Lifeguards so they can Save you!

If this lifeguard service can not only be saved from extinction but expanded, the whole area stands to benefit – and not only by diminishing the number of deaths on the beaches.

But a salutary thought is that if this lifeguard service were to disappear through lack of funding, how would we feel the next time someone drowns? Without a lifeguard service there will certainly be too many ‘next times’.

Many thanks to Eddie Ryan for all the information contained in this article and for giving so generously of his time and insights into Cocles Lifeguard project.

zoe_tom_at_geckoesArticle by Zoë Courtier. Zoë along with her husband Tom Keller are the proprietors of Geckoes Rainforest River Lodge. Two luxurious holiday houses with private plunge pools in a magnificent rainforest and river setting minutes from Playa Cocles. More information at www.geckoeslodge.com

6 Responses  
  • Manuel writes:
    January 7th, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Great page….congrats to all those that helped! Let’s hope we get some more participation

  • Matt Fox writes:
    February 20th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I am a 22 year old American (east coast). Finishing a TEFL certification class in Sámara, Costa Rica in March 2010. Unsure about teaching jobs, inquiring about lifeguard openings. I am First Aid, CPR, AED, and Ocean Rescue certified. Pool lifeguarded when I was young, moved to beaches when I was out of high school. 4 years of beach lifguarding in Ocean City, MD and Nags Head, North Carolina. Was averaging 30 rescues and 2 spinal injuries per summer In Ocean City. Collegiate swimmer (James Madison University – 47.3 100 yd. free). Like to surf and dont need much.

  • admin writes:
    February 20th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for the offer Matt. One of the secondary goals of the program though is to provide sustainable jobs for locals so the program uses local Costa Ricans from the Caribbean area as lifeguards. There are some volunteer opportunities for visitors to the area though, you might want to check out http://puertoviejosatellite.com/volunteer.php for a sampling of some of the ideas.

  • Chet Ohrt writes:
    February 24th, 2010 at 8:34 am

    With your background your ideas would be very
    valuable towards keeping the program going and
    improving.I am trying to assist in this effort and
    my email is Ohrtchet@bellsouth.net. Maybe we can
    collaborate and come up with some good ideas for the

  • Jennifer writes:
    September 16th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Why not offer 2 certified lifeguards in the US free room and meals for several weeks at a time for voluntary, but mandatory lifequarding through the tourist season? Breakfast lunch and dinner, non-alcoholic beverages, and two to four weeks working full time lifeguarding at Cocles?
    They would have to pay their own airfare and fax their credentials and references preemptively.
    There is just not the money in these communities to support full time lifeguard staff. But if several people could be recruited for working holidays with room and board taken care of, I can name about 5 lifeguards off the top of my head that would jump at the chance.

  • admin writes:
    September 16th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Interesting idea Jennifer. But as I wrote above, one of the secondary goals of the program is to provide sustainable jobs for locals so the program uses local Costa Ricans from the Caribbean area as lifeguards. I’m also not sure the cost of an area hotel room and meals would be less expensive than hiring a local guard. Finally, there is the legal issue of hiring someone who is not legally able to work in the country.

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