SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — It goes without saying that tourists come to the Panhandle to enjoy the beaches and swim.

Unfortunately, the gulf can be dangerous if there are rip currents in the water.

That’s why it’s important to take the flag warnings seriously and understand how to know what to do if you find yourself in rough surf.

South Walton Fire District prepares year-round for the influx of visitors at Santa Rosa Beach.

Lifeguards are trained and prepared to patrol the beaches, but visitors need to know the dangers so they can stay safe in the water.

“Know before you go, that’s the biggest thing. We have as many beach flags out here as we possibly can. So know the flag system, know where your nearest flags are, and always check in with the lifeguards, check with the lifeguard every morning whenever you get out to the beach. What are the conditions at this specific beach today?,” SWFD Beach Safety Lieutenant Colin Perlaky said.

Beach Safety Director David Vaughan said they are expecting high surf conditions and red flags throughout the first week of spring break.

One of the biggest threats to swimmers is rip currents.

“Often times tourists will overestimate their own abilities and try to swim out to the second sandbar thinking that it’s shallow because it looks like a shallow, only to find out that they don’t have the energy to get back in when they find out that they can’t touch out there so regardless of the surf conditions, there’s always a moderate risk out here,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan said to swim near a lifeguard and take the flag warnings seriously.

And if you do find yourself caught in a rip current, don’t panic.

“The thing that kills people is when they panic is they see the shore going the wrong way and their natural inclination is to point themselves straight into where they want to go and they don’t know that they’re not going to overcome the power of the rip current in the water moving backward,” Vaughan said.

Perlaky said when in doubt don’t go out, always have a flotation device, and never go into the water alone.

“The second best way is to relax so if you feel stuck in a rip current, the first thing you do need to do is recognize that and you put a hand up for help or signal to someone to shore or swim parallel. That’s going to be the easiest path to fight,” Perlaky said.

For more information on lifeguard tower locations, surf conditions, and the flag system click here.