Did you know that in the Town of East Hampton, there dwell super heroes — brave ocean swimmers, who are on call all the time? No matter the day, no matter the weather, they always respond from morning until night?
East Hampton has a rich history of everyday heroes, ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things. Since the 1770s, when local volunteers patrolled the coastlines of New York, these heroes have courageously saved many lives in the waters surrounding the town.
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, it was 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 into what would 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 ocean and bay.
Due to their unique understanding of surf conditions, these men provided emergency response teams for the town’s lengthy ocean coastline. At its peak, the Dory Rescue Squad had 130 members, all men.
In 1990, however, the Department of Environmental Conservation banned haul seining, a fishing practice that provided livings for many of the local baymen. Haul 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. Baymen would launch their 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 would be flopping in the huge nets. With haul seining banned, many baymen were forced to give up fishing. Plus, fewer young fishermen learned the skills needed to safely launch a boat into the surf.
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 lifeguards and ocean rescue swimmers, 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 rowed by its crew to the use of a motorized dory to the acceptance of a jet ski as a recognized rescue craft took place over many years.
Since 2003, East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue has been responding to all water emergencies in the ocean and in the bays, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The organization is 77 strong with 66 certified rescue swimmers. This is the first volunteer ocean rescue organization of its kind in the country.
The mission of EHVOR 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 East Hampton Emergency Services. This coordination is accomplished through training with many agencies in many different scenarios and locations throughout the year. This allows the group 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. The volunteer organization safeguards thousands of swimmers each year in all permitted open water swims and triathlons in East Hampton.
Members promote water safety and education by assisting the Hampton Lifeguard Association’s mission in waterproofing the East End. Along with East Hampton Town lifeguards, EHVOR assists in training and testing children from ages nine to 14 from Main Beach to Montauk. The successes of this year’s program led to a winning national team at Virginia Beach.
For more information, visit www.EHVOR.org.
Forst is Director, East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Public Relations.