THE HISTORY OF EHVOR
East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue (EHVOR) traces its roots back to the Dory Rescue Squad, which was formed in 1978 by the East Hampton Baymen’s Association. A band of courageous fishermen came together to volunteer their time and utilize their techniques to prevent drownings in the surrounding waters.
East Hampton has a long history of notable rescuers–bold men and women who have made extraordinary saves along the coastlines. Since the 1770s, local seaworthy men have been patrolling the shores, protecting those in need. In1848, the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS), a governmental agency, was created with the mission to save the lives of shipwrecked seafarers and their distressed passengers. In 1915, the USLSS merged with the United States Revenue Cutter Service (also known as Revenue-Marine), a customs enforcement department, which became the United States Coast Guard.
The Baymen's Dory Rescue Squad changed the course of lifesaving in East Hampton. These seasoned watermen were masters of haul-seining–a fishing practice that involved the use of 20 to 25-foot flat-bottomed wooden dory boats with narrow bows and sterns. They became adept at safely maneuvering these vessels through powerful surf, which allowed them to provide quick emergency response along the town’s lengthy coastlines. Each year, the Dory Rescue Squad trained with East Hampton Ambulance Association to reduce the time needed to launch and land the dory boat. The Rescue Squad’s unrelenting commitment and enthusiasm resulted in numerous lives saved through the years. At its peak, there were 130 members–all men.
In 1990, however, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) banned haul-seining. The East Hampton Baymen’s fishing practice and livelihood were declared illegal. The Dory Rescue Squad persisted but, as years passed, membership began to dwindle. The Squad had carved out an important role for itself and the need for replacement was becoming apparent. Sadly, in 2005, with only 17 members remaining, the group disbanded.
Due to the decline in membership of the Dory Rescue Squad, a group of ocean certified lifeguards united to carry on the honored tradition of surf-lifesaving and, in 2003, East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue was founded. EHVOR has both continued and expanded the Dory Rescue Squad tradition in a myriad of ways.
For its first six years, EHVOR operated only seasonally (May 1st to November 1st), providing response to water emergencies at unguarded beaches. However, these dedicated, tenacious ocean lifeguards trained throughout the year and, in 2009, EHVOR became operational year round.
The transition from the dory rowboat to the dory motorboat and, eventually, to the personal watercraft (PWC), commonly referred to as a jet ski, was a slow and arduous process that took nearly 10 years from EHVOR’s inception. East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village realized that without a dory boat an alternate vessel capable of reaching victims at a rapid speed was needed.
Lifeguards in Hawaii began using jet skis in the 1980s and California followed suit about a decade later. The jet ski was a game changer and had proven to be the most efficient water rescue tool. As the East Hampton summer population of beachgoers increased, more people migrated away from the crowded protected beaches to less populated, unprotected beaches. There was a great need for quicker response to these more remote areas. The use of jet skis allowed responders to easily launch from the beach, punch through the shore break, transport rescue swimmers, handle potentially large surf conditions, and maneuver in and out of the impact zone to pick up swimmers in distress and return them to the beach where emergency personnel could be stationed to assist.
Unfortunately, there was resistance to change rescue protocols at the state level. In 2010, the New York State Department of Health mandated that public bathing beaches required a 10-foot rescue board or a lifeboat (such as a dory boat) and, unfortunately, jet ski use was denied.
In 2011, the New York State Legislature approved a bill that permitted the use of PWCs by lifeguards and emergency workers to protect public bathing beaches. The legislation was sponsored by both State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and had been prompted by the Hampton Lifeguard Association. The East Hampton Town Lifeguards adopted jet skis to assist in rescues while lifeguards are on duty. EHVOR received its first jet ski in 2013.
EHVOR broadened its services to include water protection for various events such as triathlons, open-water swims, and paddleboard races. As the number of participants increased, the jet ski became the optimal vessel to rescue distressed swimmers, especially when the coverage area spanned miles.
In recent years, EHVOR has integrated night training and adapted its equipment to function in the dark to operate at peak efficiency at all hours. Many EHVOR members are ice-rescue certified and are experienced working in frigid temperatures. EHVOR has acquired two rescue drones to aid in the location of missing swimmers and to track rip currents. A number of EHVOR members have received their FAA-required remote drone pilot’s license.
In 2020, with the support of Assemblyman Thiele and State Senator LaValle, the State of New York recognized EHVOR’s efforts by designating it a first responder emergency rescue and first aid squad. East Hampton Town acknowledged EHVOR as an official first responder organization, allowing members to utilize green emergency lights when en route to rescue calls.
EHVOR has advanced greatly since the Dory Rescue Squad days, but the basic goal of providing quick response to water emergencies for swimmers in distress has remained consistent. EHVOR will continue to evolve but will always remain true to its commitment to waterproof the community.