PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– Oct. 1 marks the first day of the off-season for Panama City Beach Beach safety.
This means the lifeguard towers at the City pier will not be manned. Instead, the beach safety officials will be patrolling beaches looking for distressed swimmers.
Earlier in the summer, the Panama City Beach city council made the decision to allow code enforcement to assist in fining beachgoers who decide to swim during deadly red flag conditions.
Panama City Beach Fire Rescue Beach Safety Director, Wil Spivey, said while his team’s first goal is to educate swimmers about the flag system, the fines are another tool to ensure beach safety.
“There’s been issues in the past of people not listening, you know making multiple passes with the truck, and as soon as the truck leaves people get back in the water,” Spivey said.
Since June, code enforcement officials said there have been a total of 84 double red flag citations written.
Panama City Beach Code Enforcement manager, James Tindle, said he feels the fines have been effective in keeping people out of the water.
“It’s been very beneficial. People are definitely heeding the warnings, and especially when they see us get out of the truck and start issuing citations, they know we mean business,” Tindle said.
The number of drownings has also decreased this year, beach safety officials said eight drownings have been reported so far, compared to 12 in 2019.
On days of double red flag conditions, Spivey said it will still be an all hands on deck situation, with multiple agencies responding to ensure no drownings occur.
“We will be patrolling the entire city limits, and we are going to tell people if we see them in the water that it’s double red conditions,” Spivey said.
The city is also looking to increase fine amounts for swimming during double red flag conditions and will look to have a second reading on the matter at their city council meeting on Oct. 22.
Previously, the first offense for swimming in double red flag waters was a warning, a second offense resulted in a $250 fine, and then a $500 fine.
The changes would allow for a warning, which may or may not be given to those swimming during double red flag conditions. The fine would then be raised to $500, with the second offense resulting in a $1,000 fine.
Ultimately, Tindle said he hopes that the increase may result in people being even more cautious and aware to not swim in dangerous waters.
“We’re still using officer discretion to determine if a person needs a citation or not. We just feel like 500 dollars is a pretty serious fine amount and will keep a lot of people out of the water,” Tindle said.