In the past 18 months, Pier and Harbor Service Officers who serve in SMPD’s little-known Harbor Unit have performed over 105 ocean rescues in often deadly and dangerous conditions.

These intrepid officers frequently jump 25 feet off the pier into cold and turbulent waters, battle rip currents, and face heavy winds in order to complete rescues. In the last two months alone there have been several notable incidents where, without PHSO’s intervention, victims would almost certainly have drowned.

Just a few weeks ago at 8:45 p.m. on April 8, a harbor officer rescued a suicidal jumper who was seconds away from drowning.

The victim was severely struggling and had swallowed water and disappeared below the waterline right before the officer dove in. In the dark of night, the officer miraculously made contact with the victim 10 feet below the surface and pulled him back up.

Tragically, these self-harming jumps happen far too often. However, there are also many incidents where people leap off the pier for a lark.

On the evening of March 9, for example, two young women decided to jump in on a dare. Their fun rapidly turned to fear as they hit the 57-degree water wearing only their underwear, where strong currents thrust their exposed bodies against the sharp barnacles covering the pier’s pilings.

“One of them ended up clinging to a piling, then she was so exhausted that by the time our harbor guards rescued her she was face down,” said PHS Supervisor Dan Buchanan. “It was super dangerous for all involved. She’s lucky to be alive.”

The quick action of Harbor Officers is essential for rescuing swimmers, who often find themselves pulled into the rip current that naturally forms underneath the pier. Many people are unaware both of the dangers of jumping from the pier and the fact that it is illegal to do so and could result in a misdemeanor charge.

“Once people get in the water, if they are fully clothed or their swimming abilities are not the best, they start aspirating ocean water and panic sets in pretty quickly,” said Buchanan. “Having a lifeguard unit out there is imperative because saving lives is all about speed.”

Despite harbor guards’ frequent acts of heroism, few residents are aware that they are stationed on the pier and ensure public safety on the surrounding beaches and ocean areas 24/7.

These officers are rigorously trained and possess numerous qualifications. They are EMT certified, United States Lifeguard Association members, rescue boat operations, marine firefighters, and Scuba Rescue Diver certified.

Although the job is physically demanding, Buchanan said it’s also incredibly rewarding, which is why he has served as a harbor guard for over 30 years.

“Most of the people that work here and then leave and go elsewhere always come back and say ‘that was the best job I’ve ever had,’” Buchanan said, mentioning residents who want to show their appreciation for harbor guards should not hesitate to say ‘hi’ or report anything suspicious they see at the pier.

Locals and visitors are also invited to follow the @SantaMonicaHarborControl Instagram page to learn more about the unit and the rescues they perform.

Clara@smdp.com