Avalon Beach Patrol

From 1905 to present day, Avalon's lifeguards have been keeping the beaches safe for residents and visitors alike.

A History of Lifesaving

The history of the Avalon Beach Patrol is the history of lifeguarding in New Jersey. Starting in the 1850s, up-and-coming resort towns recognized that vacationers were attracted to safe beaches. At first, police officers were responsible for protecting bathers – changing out of their uniforms and into beachwear, but they were eventually replaced by volunteers known as “bathing masters” who worked for tips.

In addition to their swimming abilities, these early lifeguards relied on wooden poles and lifelines to rescue beach-goers in trouble.

Avalon's First Lifeguards, Unknown, 1907, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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A 1907 photograph of Avalon's first lifeguards, Walter A. Smith and Howard High.

The Avalon Beach Patrol was formally established under Mayor Gilbert Smith in 1905, when a lifesaving station was built at Ninth Street and the beach. Walter A. Smith and Howard High were then hired as Avalon’s first lifeguards. During the months of July and August, these two men patrolled the beach every day from 10 am to 4 pm.

Working for $2.50 a day, Smith and High also served as borough police.

Early Avalon Beach Patrol, Unknown, 1918/1925, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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The Avalon Beach Patrol circa 1918-25.

Between 1905 and the 1920s, the Avalon Beach Patrol grew. The borough began hiring college students to serve as lifeguards - a practice that continues today. Additional lifesaving stations were also built. One was constructed at 32nd Street in 1908, followed by another at 21st Street in 1910.

Starting at 8 am, members of the beach patrol would clean the beach, then hold timed practice drills until the beaches opened.

Lifeguards on Duty, Unknown, 1940-08, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Lifeguards Posing, Unknown, 1918/1925, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Athletic Lifeguards, Unknown, 1918/1925, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Boat Drills, Unknown, 1918/1925, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Henry McCandless & Bud Palmer, Unknown, circa 1924, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Photos of Avalon Beach Patrol members from 1918 to 1940.

This commitment to training was reinforced under the leadership of Captain Bill Eaton, who was responsible for increasing the physical requirements for new lifeguards and organizing the Avalon Junior Beach Patrol as an apprenticeship program.

Eaton is also credited with establishing the paddleboard as standard lifesaving equipment in Avalon.

Wooden Paddleboard, Unknown, circa 1930, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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A wooden paddleboard used in the 1930s.

Beach Patrol Oar, Unknown, circa 1940, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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A wooden oar used by the Avalon Beach Patrol in the 1940s.

Dave Kerr & Dan O'Malley Winning the Doubles Row (1980) by UnknownThe Avalon History Center

South Jersey Lifeguard Champions

The strict training regimen of daily boat launchings, rescue drills, and jogs on the beach contributed to the Avalon Beach Patrol’s frequent success in annual lifeguarding competitions.

Since 1949, the Avalon Beach Patrol has won the following events at the annual South Jersey Lifeguard Championships:


1949 - Don DeForrest (Swim)

1972 - Pat Gallagher (Swim)
1973 - Avalon (Team); Tim McKee (Swim)
1974 - Avalon (Team); Mike McCafferty (Swim); Fran Sutter (Singles Row)
1975 - Mike McCafferty (Swim)

1980 - Avalon (Team); Dan O'Malley and Dave Kerr (Doubles Row)
1981 - Avalon (Team, tie); Ed Flory (Swim); Jim Ronan (Singles Row)
1982 - Avalon (Team); Jim Ronan (Singles Row)
1985 - Ed Flory (Swim); Dave Cox (Singles Row)
1989 - Avalon (Team); Darren Ford and Rob Dougherty (Doubles Row); Chris Craft (Swim)

1990 - Mark Duszak and J.J. Nissley (Doubles Row)
1991 - Avalon (Team); Craig Whitehead and Mike Cras (Doubles Row); John Glomb (Singles Row)
1992 - Avalon (Team, tie); Craig Whitehead and Mike Cras (Doubles Row)
1993 - Craig Whitehead and Mike Cras (Doubles Row)

2000 - John Glomb (Singles Row)
2002 - John Glomb (Singles Row)

2011 - Erich Wolf (Singles Row)
2015 - Avalon (Team)
2017 - Erich Wolf (Singles Row)

Lifeguard Uniform with Button Flap, Unknown, circa 1939, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Beach Patrol Captain Shirt, Unknown, circa 1965, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Pith Helmet, Unknown, circa 1930s, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Lifeguard Jacket, Unknown, 1960/1969, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Various articles of clothing worn by Avalon lifeguards between 1930 and 1970.

Commemorative Oar, Unknown, 2013, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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A wooden oar painted in honor of former Avalon lifeguard, Joseph T. Mullray Jr.

Avalon's First Female Lifeguard (1976-06) by UnknownThe Avalon History Center

Women in the Beach Patrol

In 1976, the Avalon Beach Patrol gained its first female lifeguard: Meg Patterson. 

She was followed by a handful of young women between 1979 and 1983 before the beach patrol experienced a “wave” of female applicants in the 1990s and 2000s.

These young women were motivated to join the patrol for the same reasons as their male counterparts. Some simply loved the beach and being outdoors, while others were college athletes who wanted to stay in shape during the summer.

"I wanted to prove I could do it!"

Women in the Avalon Beach Patrol were held to the same standard as male lifeguards, which required applicants to be strong athletic contenders during tryouts. This benefited female beach patrol members both in their daily lifesaving activities and competitions.

In 2018, the female members of the Avalon Beach Patrol achieved their highest race outcome to date at the Longport Women's Lifeguard Invitational:

2nd Place Overall
2nd Place in Doubles Row: Reilly Bonner and Danielle Smith
4th Place in Swim: McKensie Meyer
2nd Place in Singles Row: Reilly Bonner
5th Place in Paddleboard: McKensie Meyer

Avalon Lifeguards Rowing Competition, Unknown, 1999, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Female Lifeguards at Competition, Unknown, 1999, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Lauren Griesser Rowing, Unknown, 2002/2012, From the collection of: The Avalon History Center
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Female members of the Avalon Beach Patrol during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Today, the Avalon Beach Patrol remains dedicated to their lifesaving mission and continues to excel in competitions as new generations of lifeguards follow in the footsteps of those who came before.

The current headquarters of the Avalon Beach Patrol at 32nd Street and the beach.

The Avalon History Center

Want to see more? Visit the Avalon History Center to explore our full exhibits in person!  

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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