PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla.– Rough surf conditions were on and off over the weekend, keeping first responders busy with the high volume of distress calls placed from areas throughout the beach.
Beach-goers can look to the flag warning system to dictate the safety of the Gulf, however some swimmers may not know about the system, what the flags mean, or could choose to ignore it.
Despite the number of calls placed to emergency services over the weekend, many swimmers do understand the risk of entering the gulf when conditions are classified as single or double red flags.
“You take a risk of drowning, being in distress, you just need to look at the flags and follow them,” said Tammy Barnhill, a vacationer from Alabama. “Follow what they say…. You have the double red flags telling you exactly what you need or not need to do and if you’re staying anywhere where you have a pool, use the pool; small children, use the pool. Do not be out in the rough waters.”
With many hotels along the beachfront offering amenities like pools, tourists do have an alternative option to entering the Gulf when a single red flag is flying. However, the warm temperatures for beach-goers who are not staying in hotels may tempt them to enter the water despite warning signs.
Lifeguards are present in some areas of the beach, like near Pier Park, who can inform people of the conditions and warn them to exit the water when double red flags are flying. If swimmers ignore the warnings from officials and continue to enter the Gulf in double red flag conditions, they could become subject to arrest.
“So I’d say it’s not worth it to get out there,” said Nelson Guzzo, a Pier Park beach-goer from Arizona. “They do have lifeguards here. I think the lifeguards have even come down and mentioned to some folks, ‘Hey, you don’t want to go out so far.’ But really, no need to put anybody else at risk. I think, it’s not really a day or a few moments in the sun, really isn’t worth costing the rest of your life or putting other people’s lives in jeopardy.”
The flags can also change throughout the day depending on weather conditions and other factors. The flag system and subsequent explanations of the flags’ meanings can be found near the Public Beach Access points along the beach.