Our City of Santa Cruz Fire Department has launched a new marine rescue system designed to meet the uniquely challenging and deadly conditions found at Toilet Bowl—a cove between Steamer Lane and Its Beach.


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Courtesy of Facebook: John F. Hunter Photography


The location name reflects the cove’s water action which often swirls and flushes in the same manner as a toilet. This water movement, combined with the force of waves impacting the back of the cove, often makes rescues extremely dangerous, and in some cases, impossible. The treacherous Toilet Bowl and other West Cliff Drive coves have claimed many lives over the years.


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Courtesy of Facebook: John F. Hunter Photography


After a Toilet Bowl rescue mission in 2014 when City rescue swimmers almost paid the ultimate price, our Fire Department began working on creation of a tool that would allow engine crews and swimmers to safely attempt a rescue in conditions that would normally prohibit them from entering the water. There was no such system available commercially.


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Photo at left courtesy of Facebook: John F. Hunter Photography


The new Toilet Bowl Rope Rescue System, when deployed to a conscious victim, allows the victim to be pulled to safety, while also maintaining rescuer safety. Should rescue swimmers find themselves injured or in unsurvivable conditions, the Toilet Bowl Rope Rescue System can be used to extricate them as well. It permits rescues with limited manpower of two to three people, and allows engine crews lacking rescue swimmers to safely attempt a rescue without entering the water.


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The new system is comprised of a floating rescue tube/harness, a haul line, a series of pulleys and breaks, earth anchors, and a 5-to-1 mechanical advantage system. Rope rescue technicians, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and lifeguard specialists were consulted. The system relies on time-tested rope rescue techniques and real world experiences of fire fighters and lifeguards.


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Last month, all Fire Department crews were trained in how to deploy, operate and maintain the system. Marine rescue lifeguards have also received initial training.

There are other traditional rope and ladder rescue systems used by the Fire Department for ocean rescues from other locations. Last year our rescue swimmers performed over 40 rescues where unpredictable waves, wet rocks and lack of ocean knowledge were the major contributing factors.


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We remind everyone that it is illegal to hop the fences along West Cliff Drive. Prevention is key;  residents and visitors are urged to enjoy our coastline from the safe side of the rail. Please be advised: if you look down at your feet and see wet rocks, you are standing too close to the cliff edge. Also: never turn your back on the water, and always keep an eye out for incoming waves. No photo is worth the loss of life.


(Top three photos courtesy of Facebook: John F Hunter Photography.)



City Beat


  1. Thank you to the City of Santa Cruz Firefighters and Lifeguards. Your ingenuity and dedication to save lives in impossible situations is greatly appreciated. Thank you for always answering the call. BKR

  2. A huge thank you to the fire department and the two hero lifeguards that I witnessed almost die trying to save a man that was swept into the T bowl while attempting to boogie board on what was one of the biggest days of the year. (pretty sure the Mavericks event was going down too)
    When I am shooting at Steamers, It really pisses me off to see some of the kooks get to close too the edge of the cliffs and are totally oblivious to the incoming sets of waves. I get mad because I worry about our lifeguards risking their lives to save someone who disrespects the ocean especially after witnessing two (young man and women) lifeguards and a 40 year old man get battered in the Toilet bowl. Please respect the ocean.
    Thank you…
    John F. Hunter

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