September 26, 2018 Issue – Page 40
A History of East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue
By Helene Forst
Did you know that in the Town of East Hampton, there dwells super heroes, brave ocean swimmers, on call all the time? No matter the day, no matter the weather, they always respond from morning till night.
East Hampton has a rich history of everyday heroes, ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things. Since the 1770’s, when local volunteers patrolled the coastlines of New York, these heroes courageously saved many lives in the waters surrounding the Town of East Hampton. In 1848, The United States Life-Saving Service, a governmental agency, formed with the mission to save the lives of shipwrecked seafarers and their distressed passengers. Then in 1915, they merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard.
Fast forward to 1978, when a group of local East Hampton baymen organized themselves, forming what was to become the East Hampton Baymen’s Association Dory Rescue Squad, a volunteer organization that grew out of humanitarian efforts to protect the lives of people in distress in the waters around the Town.
Due to their unique fishing skills of haul-seining, a fishing practice that required specialized knowledge of how to deal with powerful surf, these men provided emergency response teams for the Town’s lengthy ocean coastline. Thanks to their unending commitment, their knowledge and skills saved many lives. At its peak, the group had 130 members, all men.
In 1990, however, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) banned haul-seining, a fishing practice that provided livings for many of the local baymen. Hauling-seining was a unique way of fishing that involved the use of 20 to 25-foot flat-bottomed wooden dory boats that had a narrow bow and a narrow stern. The baymen would launch their dory boats from the beach into the surf. Once out far enough, the fishermen laid seine nets in a U-shaped pattern. They would then bring the nets together, and row back to shore where the trapped fish, mostly Stripped bass, would be flopping in the huge nets. With this new ban on haul-seining, the baymen realized that there was no need to pass their skills and knowledge down to their children as this fishing practice was now deemed illegal.
Sadly, in 2005, there were 17 members left when the group disbanded.
In 2003, however, a group of local, ocean certified lifeguards formed a rescue organization called East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue. These dedicated, tenacious lifeguards and ocean rescue swimmers, still to this day, train year-round to carry on the time-honored tradition of surf lifesaving that was passed on to them by the United States Life-Saving Service and the East Hampton Baymen’s Association Dory Rescue Squad.
The transition from the use of a dory boat that was rowed by the dory rescue responders, to the use of a motorized dory boat, to the acceptance of a jet ski as a recognized rescue craft took place over many years.
Since 2003, East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue (EHVOR) has been responding to all water emergencies in the ocean and in the bays, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our organization is 77 strong with 66 certified rescue swimmers. This is the first volunteer ocean rescue organization of its kind in the country.
Our mission is to make expedient and safe water rescues year-round at all unprotected beaches in the Town of East Hampton by responding quickly while coordinating with all East Hampton Emergency Services. This coordination is accomplished through training with multi agencies in many different scenarios and locations throughout the year. This allows us to be prepared for any water emergency from Wainscott to Montauk.
EHVOR protects and coordinates many charitable events such as Paddle for Pink that benefits Breast Cancer Research, Surfers Healing for Autism, A Walk on Water, benefiting children and teens with disabilities, and a local community swim for cancer survivors and their families that benefits Fighting Chance. Our volunteer organization safeguards thousands of swimmers each year in all Permitted Open Water Swims and Triathlons in the township of East Hampton.
Our members promote water safety and education by assisting Hampton Lifeguard Association’s (HLA’s) mission in waterproofing the East End. Along with the East Hampton Town lifeguards, EHVOR assists in training and testing children from ages 9 – 14 from Main Beach to Montauk. The successes of this year’s program led to a winning National Team at Virginia Beach, Virginia.
For more information, visit www.EHVOR.org.
Forst is Director, East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Public Relations