Lifeguards on Duty

The Cape Cod Lifesaving Competition, celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, shines a spotlight on a talented group of athletes tasked with protecting the Cape’s most precious treasure: its beaches

Perhaps nothing is more cherished than a warm summer day on a Cape Cod beach. A kaleidoscope of vacation stories, since turned to memories, frames sunny days with family and carefree moments with friends, against a backdrop of the stunning beauty found at the water’s edge. On any given day across the Cape and Islands, in the summer one can find beachgoers frolicking on the sand or cooling off in the shallows. On the Outer Cape, joyous squeals of children’s laughter resonate up and down the shoreline as their parents relax under the warm rays of the sun, everyone enjoying one of the most precious gems of the United States: the Cape Cod National Seashore. 

One warm day in 1973 was no different, when vacationers and locals flocked to the shores of Nauset Beach in Orleans. Beachgoers were drawn by the natural beauty and serenity of Cape Cod’s warm sands and sprawling dunes, ready to shake off the blues of a nor’easter earlier that week. Bronzed lifeguards sat atop their wooden stands, ever watchful for dangerous currents and struggling swimmers, and as they looked on, it became quickly evident that this was no normal day at Nauset. A massive rip current trapped swimmers in its clutches, and the lifeguard team had their hands full rescuing terrified beachgoers. Incident reports detail over 50 rescues made that day, with victims sent to Cape Cod hospital, and had it not been for the lifeguards the outcome may not have been as positive as it turned out. Only a single fatality occurred at the hospital, attributed to a heart attack. The day serves as a jarring reminder of the many dangers of the ocean, but also as a testament to the unparalleled skill and dedication of the Cape’s lifeguards—something that has been acknowledged each year since that fateful day through the annual Cape Cod Lifesaving Competition.