PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Beaches across the Panhandle were flying double red flags Friday due to dangerous water conditions.

Public officials warn everyone to not get into the Gulf of Mexico when double red flags are flying.

“[The Gulf of Mexico] is a great place to be, but when the water is dangerous and we make that decision to go double red, it’s for the safety of our beachgoers, our visitors, and our rescuers,” Panama City Beach Safety Director Wil Spivey said.

At beaches in counties like Bay and Walton, there are laws against defying this ordinance, and violators can be fined, or even worse– you could drown.

Mackenzie McClintock, the public information officer for the South Walton Fire District, said their response rate has been pushed to the max recently.

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“Just yesterday, we had 11 people who had to be treated at one time in Miramar Beach,” McClintock said. “That was incredibly taxing to the point where we ran out of … ambulances to put people in.”

The flag system at the beach may seem like common sense for some, but first-time visitors of the Gulf may not be completely aware of the water dangers.

“If you can imagine putting yourself in the position of someone who comes from Chicago and has never seen the Gulf of Mexico before, they just don’t know,” McClintock said. “It’s not their fault that they don’t know, and it’s up to [the community] to help educate them.”

With the summer season quickly approaching, the beaches are beginning to fill up with visitors— and officials say if you see something happening potentially dangerous in the water, alert beach authorities.

Officials also say to pay attention to Gulf conditions, even when the flags aren’t double red.

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 “Even on a calm day, there’s always some level of risk… It’s just about mitigating that and being smart about it,” Spivey said. “We try notifying the public with the flags, our alert system and our website.”

Here’s how the flag system works:

  • Green flags = Low hazards (Calm conditions, exercise caution)
  • Yellow flags = Medium hazard (Moderate surf and/or currents)
  • Single red flags = High hazard (High surf and/or strong currents)
  • Double red flags = Water closed to the public
  • Purple flags = Dangerous/stinging marine life (jellyfish, stingrays, etc.)

McClintock said keep an eye out for yourself and others while enjoying the beach, no matter the flag color.

“The more that we can educate others who are visiting, but also take care of ourselves and let first responders have the room they need to work, I think the better the community is,” McClintock said.

Learn more about Florida’s beach warning flag program here.