CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan — New changes to the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific Order 5101.1 were signed into effect May 1 following modifications that allow service members to enter the water during sea condition danger under certain circumstances.
The changes in the policy allow personnel to enter the water for recreational daytime swimming in designated areas on military installations when the appropriate commanders determine allowable water activities, and off base when staffed by lifeguards. This applies during professionally monitored athletic competitions staffed with trained rescue personnel as well.
The modifications will align III MEF and MCIPAC with the same policy as the 18th Wing Command, Commander Fleet Activities Okinawa, and Army Garrison Torii Station.
“The rationale behind these changes is that lifeguards and other personnel designated as local authority have the knowledge and expertise to make locally informed decisions on whether water conditions are safe for recreational activities in their designated areas,” said Shawn M. Curtis, the deputy safety director for Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC.
This new policy helps give precise and realistic definitions of the sea condition, according to Vincent M. Keller, a tactical safety specialist with III MEF.
Prior to the changes, lifeguards had the authority to cease water activities during all-clear conditions if they deemed it necessary. This was to protect swimmers from approaching inclement weather or if dangerous sea life was present. Now, if sea condition danger is set, lifeguards and appropriate commanders can decide to allow swimmers into the water, according to Curtis.
“As long as appropriate measures are implemented and adhered to, personnel should be able to safely enjoy the water for recreational use,” said Curtis. “No status of forces agreement personnel drowned in designated areas under the surveillance of lifeguards during the last 13 years.”
This policy modification will help service members further enjoy their time on Okinawa.
“Before this policy change, family members were allowed to enter the water during sea condition danger, but service members could not,” said Curtis. “The changes offer Marines a chance to spend time enjoying the water with their families.”
Even with changes to policy, it is important to realize that this only allows service members to enter the water during sea condition danger for recreational purposes in authorized areas with lifeguards.
“This does not authorize anyone to go diving, snorkeling or swimming in a secluded area during harsh conditions,” said Curtis.
As long as people remain aware of their surroundings, this change will safely open up new opportunities for service members on Okinawa.
“The most important thing to remember is awareness,” said Keller. “But, it is important that service members are always aware of the weather, sea conditions, and always look out for one another.”
For more information on sea conditions and water safety, please refer to III MEF/MCIPACO 5101.1 Ch1 or contact the MCIPAC Installation Safety Office at 645-3806.