San Diego's Mission Bay lifeguard force and fleet are said to be in dire straits.
So a key City Council committee is moving to sort out the highest priorities for upgrading public safety.
The Mission Bay Lifeguard Service unit has been a chronic victim of city budget neglect.
Among its 11 vessels are two multi-purpose rescue fireboats -- one near the end of its useful life, and both subject to constant breakdowns.
"We've had a couple calls, serious calls, where they haven't performed," says Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris. "One of (the calls) was (for) 'fuel in the bilge', which is like a bomb. And we had no ability to pump water … so we don't want to get to a point where we have a disaster."
The fleet that patrols Mission Bay covers 27 miles of shoreline that encompass 11 marinas with more than 2,200 boats, and six major hotel properties.
Staffing and training have been issues, as more and more lifeguards hit retirement age and qualified replacements are at a premium.
The unit handled nearly 800 boat fires or accidents and 200 swimmer rescues last year.
On Wednesday, the City Council's Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee formed a working group to look at where new money would do the most good, in the most timely fashion.
"I think we are going to be in a position to help public safety in general," says Councilman Todd Gloria, a committee member. "Every council member has acknowledged that to be their top priority.
"I think what the lifeguards are asking for in terms of additional equipment -- specifically a boat -- that's a one-time expense which is far easier to accommodate in a limited budget environment."
But the lifeguards warn that time is of the essence.
They say further study of priorities will push back the delivery timeline for a new fireboat -- which generally runs nearly a year after an order is placed.
The projected cost: $800,000 to $1 million.