Ecuador’s Successful Transition to Self-Sustained Lifeguard Operations

By: Paul Dunning, Founder: Project Ecuador – Long Beach Lifeguard Association

I bring great news from South America! Ecuador now has a national lifesaving organization and becomes the seventh nation in South America with organized lifeguards. Project Ecuador’s mission has been to train citizens in Ecuador to become lifeguards, then to help guide groups to become self-sustained Professional Ocean Lifeguard services. After five years, unification on a national level finally solidified.

On October 25, 2011, the Secretaria Nacional de Gestion de Riesgos (SNGR) announced a new program called PROYECTO SEGURA PLAYAS (PROJECT SAFE BEACHES) to institutionalize lifeguards in all coastal Provinces. Rescate Acuatico will oversee the project and has a 2 year, $400,000 budget for rescue equipment, rescue boats, training and infrastructure development. Rescate Acuatico will certify the lifeguards we trained to be eligible to be hired by the local municipalities. Only certified lifeguards can work on the beach. Municipalities are now required to create a budget for lifeguards and will oversee wage administration.

I am very proud to see our hard work transform into public policy. I am also excited to see the lifeguards trained by Project Ecuador receive certification from a government entity versus Americans to validate their ability to meet international standards. Perhaps most importantly from a professionalism and sustainability perspective, our grass roots effort to persuade Cities to pay for lifeguards is already in effect. Lifeguards are being paid $450 (USD) per month, nearly double the minimum wage of $264. New American style lifeguard towers have been erected throughout the nation. Sustained professional lifeguard operations have been created and the long term outlook is very promising.


The purpose of this article is to help other lifeguards see the benefits of volunteering and developing lifeguard organizations worldwide. All lifeguard leaders should encourage their team to help those less fortunate. I believe American lifeguards have the responsibility to help Latin America start or improve lifeguard operations. It’s a challenge to dedicate your free time to affect a successful plan. The results are worth it and the personal enrichment will last a lifetime.

I was recently honored to be appointed to the newly created position of Director of US Lifesaving Aid for the International Life Saving Federation – Americas Region. My new role will include helping those interested in volunteering throughout Latin America, coordinating their efforts, helping raise funds, coordinating equipment donations, and promoting self- sustaining lifesaving organizations throughout the region. But back to Ecuador.

In the winter 2009 American Lifeguard Magazine, Chris Brewster and Peter Davis outlined key strategies for creating self-sustained lifeguard organizations. In summary, they are (1) Sustainability is the key, (2) Coordinate with the national lifesaving association (if one exists), (3) Promote (empower) existing local entities, (4) Make donations carefully, (5) Listen to locals and (6) Coordinate your efforts with the International Life Saving Federation (ILS). This was an excellent template to drive our strategy in Ecuador and all elements were implemented. I thank Brewster and Davis for providing guidance to make it happen.

I would like to point out the Critical Success Factors that allowed Project Ecuador to reach its goal in just five years. They are unique to Ecuador, but may be transferable to other countries.


Become a diplomat and ambassador of goodwill. Send letters to Mayors, Governors, Consul Generals and Presidents to inform them of your goals and intentions. Do the same with the Red Cross, Civil Defense, Ministry of Tourism or any recognized agency that can help you implement your goal. Follow up with face to face meetings. Provide simple gifts of thanks according to that country’s code of ethics. Become a welcomed guest. Do not fear rejection, expect it and move on to another government channel to achieve your goal. Seek out formal cooperative agreements. Respond to their call for help. This is very important. Do not assume they need or want help or change. If you are making the first contact, then ask for a formal invitation to provide help. You cannot affect change when change is not their priority or goal.


Here are examples of how broad in spectrum our collaborative efforts became: (1) Local universities in Ecuador; (2) Ecuador’s Army, Navy and Air Force; (3) Red Cross of Ecuador; (4) American Red Cross; (5) Ministry of Tourism; (6) Department of Risk Management — SNGR; (7) Sister Cities of Long Beach; Inc.; (8) Lifeguard leaders in Brazil, Spain/Canary Islands and Argentina; (9) Other American international teams including Lifeguards Without Borders and the International Surf Life Saving Association; (10) Product sponsors like Marine Rescue Products, Original Waterman, Viper Fins , Body Glove and BIG studios, malcolm816; and (11) Scores of interested volunteers.


Project Ecuador’s area of influence became vast. We started with one beach, Playas, then expanded northward to 19 more beaches. (refer to insert) I am very proud of the 75 American lifeguard volunteers who traveled to Ecuador to help train and provide an excellent example of professional lifeguard operations. Lifeguards from California, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, representing 14 USLA agencies, volunteered for a combined total of 111 individual missions and paid for their own flight costs estimated at $80,000. The numbers and dollars are truly remarkable! As a result, Project Ecuador can be considered as the largest ever international lifesaving outreach mission and the results show that a concerted effort will yield desired results.


Ecuador’s political stability has been the cornerstone for success in the emergence of professional life saving in Ecuador. Rafael Correa was elected November 26, 2006, the day Project Ecuador started. Ecuador’s movement to have professional lifeguards is a direct result of Correa’s political stability and the end of “start – stop” public welfare programs. Project Ecuador met with Eddie Bedon, Ecuador’s Consul General in Los Angeles several times to reveal our strategy and to gain his support. We also met with the Mayors in key coastal cities to inform them of the importance of the lifeguard profession and the need to maintain a paid lifeguard staff for the benefit of tourism and public safety. Communicating with Ecuador’s leaders truly solidified our mission.


Our remaining goal is to see Ecuador’s application and entry into the International Life Saving Federation, so that they can join the global family of lifesavers and benefit by the ongoing exchange of information and support. In Manta, a non-profit organization has been formed and represents lifeguards in all regions. This NGO is the platform to apply and enter the ILS. Project Ecuador remains in frequent contact with the organization’s leaders. Fundacion Salvares parallels USLA’s structure and is separate from the SNGR – Rescate Acuatico.


The ability to communicate internationally has expanded beyond phone calls and emails. Project Ecuador has a Facebook page to friend with Ecuador’s regional lifeguards and officials. It began to be the best way to communicate our goals and to share results. Project Ecuador has a website & blog that highlights our history:


In 2009, I empowered the most responsible and dedicated volunteers with the title of Director to spread the word with authority. Fellow founder John Pearce completed his mission to secure lifeguards in Playas and ended his active role. John was the key communicator to respond to Playas request for help. Then, to help expand our mission, Project Ecuador named three Directors: Ecuadorian Gabriela Munoz Ocana, Rodney Williamson, Bridget Srodon and leader Bill White. Gabriela Munoz Ocana (Gaby) lives in Guayaquil and was trained by Project Ecuador during our 2008 Carnival mission. She recently graduated #2 at law school and was responsible for logistics, contractual agreements and communication with the government. Gaby was the catalyst for success. Gaby traveled to Quito with me or alone to meet leaders from the Ministry of Tourism and SNGR. Gaby presented the detailed framework for a national lifeguard organization titled Project Safe Beaches. This strategic plan was implemented by the SNGR and resulted in the formation of Rescate Acuatico!

Rodney Williamson lives in Los Angeles and Montanita. He trained and certified lifeguards in Montanita to become the elite guards in Santa Elena. He also traveled to the Northern Province of Emeraldas to train lifeguards without any previous outside influence. Rodney was instrumental in our overall success.

Bridget Srodon is a Los Angeles County lifeguard who traveled to Playas for several months to help persuade the city to maintain a full time lifeguard agency. Bridget trained lifeguards throughout the Province of Guayas and Santa Elena to promote our efforts. Bridget solidified lifeguard operations in Playas.

Bill White is also a Los Angeles County Lifeguard and traveled on three missions. Bill led a mission in Playas and two missions in Manta. Bill was a key negotiator along with Gaby during tense meetings with the SNGR to avoid volunteer’s deportation when egos clashed. Bill was the key communicator with the Manta Fire Department and City Hall.


We are respectful of Ecuador’s sovereign abilities and we have ended the annual Carnival training missions. For 2012, a new Exchange Program will highlight the formal diplomatic relationship between Long Beach–Manta Sister Cities and Fundacion Salvares. American exchange lifeguards selected are Rodney Williamson and Bruce Moncrief as ambassadors of goodwill. We plan to continue the exchange program in 2013.


I am truly thankful for the many donors who made this possible. The $20,000 in cash donations and $13,000 in product donations provided the seed capital to save lives and will continue to save lives for years to come. This has been an adventure of a lifetime for me and everyone involved. Rescate Acuatico is Ecuador’s national lifeguard agency and lifeguards are public safety professionals! Mission Accomplished!

If you would like to contribute your expertise or make a donation toward lifesaving development in the Americas, contact me. The Americas Region of the International Life Saving Federation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has been in existence since 1998. Our goal is to channel the energies and enthusiasm of US lifeguards toward the areas of greatest need and greatest potential for success, so that we can help create self-sustaining lifesaving organizations throughout the Americas. We want to duplicate the Ecuadorian success story wherever possible. Contact me at: or by phone at: 323-841-5856.

Paul Dunning is Director of US Lifesaving Aid for the International Life Saving Federation – Americas Region. He is a retired recurrent Long Beach Lifeguard (1978-2011). He is President of Long Beach-Manta Sister Cities, Chairman of the Board of Long Beach Sister Cities, Inc. and Commissioner, Comite de Fiestas Patrias Ecuatorianas. He is a finance executive at JM Eagle, the world’s largest PVC pipe manufacturer. Project Ecuador received USLA’s National Lifesaving Award in 2008.