PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – Bay County’s lifeguards will soon move to weekends-only shifts in October.
Throughout this year, there was a significant increase in visitors to Bay County beaches according to Bay County Beach Operations Supervisor James Beattie.
“Tourist numbers from this year to last year, of course, are up considerably because of COVID-19 cutting off a lot of things,” Beattie said. “And for this year, we had about 75,000 visitors that came to the (M. B. Miller) pier or Rick Seltzer (Park).”
Bay County lifeguards usually don’t start until April 1st.
But due to the size of crowds, beach operations decided to start beach season early this year.
“This year we got onto stands on March 16th,” said Beattie. “For the next year, I think they are looking at starting a little bit earlier in the month but there are no yet concrete numbers that will be discussed over the winter.”
Bay County Parks and Recreation crew leader, Vincent Martin said the increase in tourists led to an increase in rescues.
“So we haven’t ended yet, but we’re looking at about 162 rescues so far,” Martin said. “And then about 178 water assists, which we go in to assist people in if they are getting kind of close to a rip or something like that.”
The county does not staff lifeguards on the beach from November until the beginning of the season in March.
Both Martin and Beattie said, lifeguards or not, locals and visitors need to pay attention to the beach warning flag system.