Marine Rescue
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Cozumel Lifesaving & Aquatic Rescue Program
American Community Services (ACS)
in partnership with the Municipio de Cozumel, Cruz Roja
and other organizations
Project Coordinators: Karen Pedersen & Sherri Davis

ACS is participating with local government officials (Civil Protection, Economic Growth, Federal Zone, Marine Park,Tourism), the Red Cross and other representatives from the public and private sectors to develop a lifesaving and aquatic rescue program for Cozumel's beaches. A coordinated comprehensive lifesaving approach needs to occur over time and be implemented in phases.

The initial focus is to:

  • Assess beach conditions

  • Recruit and train lifeguards

  • Provide signs in Spanish and English regarding swimming risks

  • Construct towers and provide rescue equipment for use only by trained lifeguards in selected locations

  • Coordinate planning and resources among various organizations

Did you know?

  • Over 4 million people visited Cozumel last year; 3.5 million via cruise ships increasing the number of snorkelers and tourists visiting beaches.
  • Many first time and repeat vacationers rent vehicles to explore the pristine beaches and get away from cruise ship crowds.
  • Mobility of locals has increased dramatically from primarily walking/biking to owning motos/cars. More locals now explore all areas of the island, visiting beaches frequently on weekends/holidays with their families even though many do not know how to swim.


  • Increased tourism and greater mobility among locals can potentially lead to more accidental deaths and incidents.
  • Over the years drownings as a result of wading or swimming at the beaches have occurred sporadically among residents and tourists. Although relatively few aquatic incidents are reported considering the large number of people using the beaches, many residents know others who have experienced a serious incident as a result of dangerous undertow or strong currents on the east side.
  • Perhaps some past drowning deaths could have been prevented if there would have been signs warning of the risks, information known about what to do in case of emergency or lifeguards trained in surf rescue conditions with the proper equipment.
  • Recent incidents have led to public support for a lifesaving program. Past efforts did not succeed due to lack of resources, lifesaving expertise, and coordination among entities.
  • Acapulco, Ensenada, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and other Mexico locations have implemented lifesaving programs that dramatically decreased drownings and safety incidents.

Background - How did the program get started? October-December, 2003

  • October - The Red Cross, assisted by the Cozumel Foundation, developed a proposal and talked with municipal officials to gain support for an aquatic rescue program on the east side that included constructing towers, hiring lifeguards and providing equipment.
  • The Department of Tourism had previously developed a proposal for signage warning of risks. The US Consular Agent encouraged the effort and sought local business donors.
  • November - The Red Cross sponsored construction of a lifeguard tower at Punta Morena, a popular surfing beach on the east coast, and employed a trained lifeguard.
  • American Community Services (ACS) initially became involved upon request of the Red Cross to research and access rescue equipment from the US. Two water rescue ropes were donated for use by the trained lifeguard at Punta Morena. ACS broadened research efforts to identify resources to help Cozumel develop a comprehensive lifesaving program, resulting in contacts with Club Tortuga.
Dr. Victor Zavala (seated third from left) shares observations from the assessment conducted in January 2004 with Presidente Carlos Hernandez Blanco (seated second from left) and the press
  • What is Club Tortuga? A non-profit organization that provides professional services to lifesaving groups in Mexico and Latin America. Club Tortuga members are professional lifeguards throughout North America and the world. They provide information and support development of open water lifesaving organizations to create aquatic safety and drowning prevention programs. Club Tortuga can assist Cozumel by sharing their wealth of experience implementing programs in other Mexico locations, developing a master plan for the community, providing lifeguard training and educational materials in Spanish, recommending rescue equipment, assisting with equipment donations, and developing a junior lifeguard program.
  • December - The Secretary General invited representatives from the public and private sectors to discuss a lifesaving program and resources. He confirmed the Municipio de Cozumel would support and fund a lifesaving program. Information about Club Tortuga was presented. The group agreed to seek Club Tortuga's expertise for an assessment.

What happened during the assessment January 17-20, 2004?

Presidente Carlos Hernandez Blanco discusses the assessment with Dr. Victor Zavala
  • Dr. Victor Zavala, Club Tortuga representative and Professor of Marine Sciences at Autonomous University of Baja California in Ensenada, Mexico, visited Cozumel January 17-20 to assess the current situation.
  • Purpose of the assessment: 1) Evaluate beach conditions for swimming safety, 2) Evaluate plans to construct towers and identify needed rescue equipment, 3) Review community support and resources available from the public and private sectors to initiate a program. Share information from other locations in Mexico, 4) Recommend a comprehensive plan to implement in phases, 5) Communicate how Club Tortuga's resources can benefit Cozumel.
  • Over 25 government officials, public and private sector representatives participated in assessment activities with Dr. Zavala: presentation on effective lifesaving programs, tour of beaches, review beach conditions and rescue experience on the east side, review signs, discussions with chamber of commerce members, and review local regulations.
  • Dr. Zavala presented initial recommendations for implementing a program in four phases. A written report and recommendations for a comprehensive lifesaving program was provided in early February.
  • Dr. Zavala participated with Presidente Carlos Hernandez Blanco and others in a press conference January 20th.

What is the current status?

  • May 2004 - Preparation is occurring for the Cozumel Lifeguard Academy to be held in late June presented by Club Tortuga. Dr. Victor Zavala assisted by experienced lifeguards from other Mexico beach locations will provide Cozumel's lifeguards training on ocean rescue techniques with a special focus on surf conditions.
From left: Karen Pedersen (ACS), Dr. Victor Zavala (Club Tortuga), Sherri Davis (ACS)
  • March-April 2004 - Civil Protection launched a campaign to recruit potential lifeguards and selected 21 persons to participate in an introductory course of Aquatic Safety and Rescue. These candidates received recognition from city officials for completion of Phase I training which included First Air, CPR, administering oxygen and basic lifesaving skills.
  • Eight full-time lifeguards (six men and two women) were hired by the city and are rotating daily among beach locations on the east and west sides of the island.
    Red flags are being posted on selected east side beaches on days when currents are too dangerous for safe swimming.
  • Permanent signs have been posted at San Martin Beach on the east side closing the beach for swimming due to dangerous conditions.
  • A lifeguard tower was completed at Chen Rio (east side). A couple of towers have been constructed at hotels and public west side beaches.
  • February 2004 - A number of program implementation issues were discussed such as compliance with federal government safety training regulations, multiple sign projects, lack of potential candidates and the need to coordinate resources as well as communication.
  • January 2004 - Development of the program is being guided by a working group of representatives from the public and private sectors that has met four times this month to discuss issues such as recruiting for lifeguards and coordinating signage.
  • Capitan Daniel Alvarez, Proteccion Civil, is providing municipal leadership for the program. The primary funding source will be monies already collected on an ongoing basis from concessionaires in the federal zone.
  • Club Tortuga donated two water rescue tubes via ACS for use by trained lifeguards.
  • ACS has been designated as Cozumel's liaison with Club Tortuga
  • As of January, Cozumel currently had one full-time trained lifeguard who was sponsored by the Red Cross located at Punta Morena.







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