The way DPW crews clean Fisherman's Beach now is they drag it with a York rake and dump the collected sea vegetation at the waterline for the tide to carry it off.
Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn't, says DPW Director Gino Cresta.
Last week town officials watched a surf rake sweep back and forth over the Fisherman's Beach sand.
Its conveyor pulled algae, eel grass and rocks from the shore, and bottle caps, cigarette butts and glass from the top of the beach near the wall.
The stuff went into a hopper, which lifted and tilted and dumped the collection in piles.
Pulled by a tractor, the surf rake cleaned about 10 percent of the beach in 20 minutes. And that included stops to demonstrate dumping, turning and other features.
It will clean 5 acres in an hour.
The demonstration was by H. Barber & Sons of Naugutuck, CT, whose machines groom beaches throughout New England including Hampston Beach in NH and Gloucester, Beverly and DCR land in Massachusetts, said company spokesman TJ Chapman.
Barber was invited to comb the Swampscott beach by the Swampscott Harbor Advisory Committee.
Committee Chairman Bill Hennessey said the town's beaches tend to get dirty, and he was impressed with the cleaning the rake did.
Surf rakes, depending on their size, range in price from $20,000 to $60,000.
They need a tractor to pull them, as well. A tractor would cost about $50,000.
The Public Works director said the surf rake would improve the appearance of all the town's beaches and save money on labor.
But a major question remains.
What to do with the material, the tons of eel grass and and rocks and debris that will collect over time?
"The million dollar question is disposal," he said.
Town Administrator Tom Younger said the surf rake could be a first step in revitalizing beaches.
"Our beaches could be more widely utilized," he said.
The rake can also be used for cleaning, weeding and evening out infields and for aerating grass fields.
It remains to be seen if the rake and tractor will be included in the capital plan for next year.
If proposed, they would need approval at town meeting.