2008-03-21 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

Many Old Time Bathing Lines Preceded Civil Service Lifeguards
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev,Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

During the mid 1870s rough surf acting on high and steep beach berms caused drowning to increase in the Rockaways. Aseaside lifeguard from the Beachmere Hotel on Beach 101 Street also drowned trying to save one endangered bather, both caught in the strong undertow!

During this time, the beaches in New Jersey were installing new bathing lifelines patented by an enterprising new company, and beachowners from the Rockaways traveled to Seabright and Atlantic City to observe the lifesaving device.

What they observed pleased them immensely, and the company was given a contract(s) to install their patented device on Rockaway and Far Rockaway beaches. Coney Island also joined the cause to prevent drowning there.

The new device was very simple in the fact that poles were sunk into the beach, and ran in rows at intervals out into the surf. The wider the beach, the more rows, and the distance between rows was set by the beach owner.

The rope lines were attached to these poles (as shown in the view) out into the surf, and from row to row, dropped down so bathers could hang on in the pounding surf. The cross ropes were spaced to correspond with tide levels. Bathers were advised to stay inside the lines by private lifeguards.

Some beach owners improved the set-up by making lines taught, and hanging stringers downward, spaced so more bathers could hang on. The early draping of the ropes limited the amount of bathers hanging on.

The rope system worked well up until the new beach with wooden jetties was built in the Rockaways between 1925 to 1930. All the old lines and poles were removed, and replaced by ropes and buoys alongside both sides to keep bathers away from the construction. Old-timers were aghast at the change. Safety ropes were used in Far Rockaway, east and west of Beach 9 Street, into the 1960s, to mark the channel drop for bathers.

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