Cozumel Lifesaving & Aquatic Rescue
American Community Services (ACS)
in partnership with the Municipio de Cozumel,
and other organizations
Project Coordinators: Karen Pedersen & Sherri
||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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.