BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Thousands of people from all over the country come to Bay County in the summer to experience the world’s most beautiful beaches.
But the emerald waters can prove to be deadly.
So far this year, Panama City Beach has experienced four drownings and over 300 public assists and water rescues.
“They occurred on red and yellow days, so again, there’s lots of variables,” Panama City Beach Fire Rescue Beach Safety Director Wil Spivey said. “A non-swimmer, you can drown in perfectly flat water. There’s different variables for any situation like that so I would just advise folks to be knowledgeable of their own abilities.”
Spivey said to exercise extreme caution if you go into the Gulf of Mexico knowing your swimming strength is little to none.
“Some people think, ‘I’ll just go in where I can stand,’ but that can quickly change if you step off a sandbar or if you step into a deep spot or a rip current you can get pulled out,” Spivey said. “You could very quickly find yourself in water over your head.”
Spivey recommends wearing a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device that fits you, or not going in at all.
Unincorporated Bay County has not seen a drowning so far this year, but safety officials have performed 47 water rescues so far.
Sergeant Mike Morris with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said taking a risk can also put others’ lives in danger.
“The worst case scenario is you go in the water when you’re not supposed to and it’s illegal and you’ve got somebody onshore that’s not trained properly, does not have the right equipment and then they go in after you so then you are jeopardizing everybody’s safety because you decided to go into the water,” Sgt. Morris said.
The sheriff’s office is currently offering open water rescue classes for road deputies to increase the number of people who are trained to help.