Lifeguards on Panama City Beach

by May 29, 2008 • 16 comments

The long and short of it is: Should we have lifeguards on our beaches in Panama City Beach? And, if so, why and how will we pay for it?

This comes up almost every year after drownings, and after the tragic deaths of two swimmers over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, it has come up again.

Do we need lifeguards? Could we have prevented the deaths over the weekend if a lifeguard system was in place?

I was listening to the Burnie Thompson Show the other morning and they were discussing that all the beach attendants/vendors are required to be lifeguard certified as part of the permitting process with them running a beach business. It was reported that many of them performed successful rescues over the weekend.

City Councelman Ken Nelson submits that a lifeguard system could be funded through the CRA. But would this be good enough? This would only provide funding for lifeguards within city limits, but not the unincorporated Bay County areas of Panama City Beach. Furthermore, is it realistic to try and fund lifeguards out of a budget whose funding isn’t solidified and may be tight already?

Another possible suggestion would be for the funding for lifeguards on Panama City Beach to come from the Bay County Tourist Development Council (TDC). Again, with a relatively small marketing budget, how can we expect to take even more money from that which we need to drive tourism?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually think the idea of lifeguards on our beach is a good idea, I’m just curious what ideas you have about funding them.

In addition, if we have lifeguards on our beaches, does that create a liability and vulnerability to lawsuit? Other areas are using lifeguards, even areas as close as Walton County. What are they doing?

I realize most of this post is actually me asking questions, but I don’t have many answers with this. We’ve proven time and time again that we can generate good discussion on, so please post your ideas, comments or concerns.

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1 Bryan Durta May 30, 2008 at 8:46 am

PCB needs to deal with this issue now. The media keeps reporting about how Walton County has lifeguards and we don’t. Actually, Walton County only provides them at 8 locations. It was recently reported that the cost was $622,000/year and paid by their TDC. Maybe PCB could put them at our public parks(Rick Seltzer, County Pier, and City Pier/Pier Park). The city could pay for the two pier locations from CRA and/or their 1% business tax and the TDC could pay at Rick Seltzer park.


2 Leanna June 3, 2008 at 11:03 am

A community that promotes its beach as the main attraction should provide lifegaurds. Doesn’t that seem obvious to anyone else besides me? Especially with many out-of-towners who may be visiting the beach for the very first time, and especially on a beach that allows alcohol consumption. As far as being liable to lawsuits, isn’t that better than the alternative of losing lives? Hello! Even if only TWO lifegaurd stands were opened, people could choose to swim near near them. I would, even as a very experienced, strong swimmer- becuase its the smart thing to do. Getting lifegards is the smart, right thing to do and it is embarrassing that we promote our beach the way we do and don’t have any.

Also, please do not get your advice from the Bernie Thompson show!


3 Terri June 3, 2008 at 11:49 am

LIFE Guards would be a GREAT attraction for tourists – Safety is the MOST important concern to families!


4 Michael June 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I think that our local goverment does not want to spend money on anything that is worth it. They would rather be wasteful. We are in a time of change. It is time for real issues to be addressed. Instead we are going to hire “professionals” to tell us what “to loud” is. Local’s are starting to make this something that it is not. If you want it to be quite move to Lynn Heaven. I just don’t understand the people that we have that live her. Also, how as a town we do not want more say in our community. Do we really think that it is smart to not want to protect our beach’s.
As of now we have not had any real issues on the beach with crime. But maybe, just maybe putting lifegaurds will not only safe lives but make the beach a safe place. Let’s stop crime before it becomes an issue.


5 Patty June 3, 2008 at 1:36 pm

My husband and I are “beach people” and have been lucky enough to have visited some of the most beautiful beaches on both the East Coast as well as in the Caribbean. We marvel at the fact that that while PCB markets itself based on its beaches that there are no lifeguards anywhere! Lifeguards in even a limited area are not an option. Even the smallest beaches that we have been to (Megans Bay, St Thomas USVI) is lifeguarded. It is not smart to allow your visitors to drown. We were following the news recently with the rip-tides and the drownings and it occurred to me that if you see someone in trouble what do you do? Do you risk your life to attempt a rescue? What about the undertow or rip-tide? Do you call the police and have to wait for them to get there? What is the protocol?
The obvious thing to do is to have a lifeguarded section on at least a portion of the beach. As for a liabilty issue you could clearly post the lifeguard hours (usually 10am – 6pm) on the part of the beach being patrolled. The other parts of the beach without the lifeguards could be posted that you swim at your own risk and direct people to where the lifeguards are. The cost can be defrayed by an additional room tax for hotels & condos (nominal $1.00 per room per night). There should absolutely be lifeguards there even if they are limited in number from Spring break season thru Labor Day.


6 Richard June 3, 2008 at 3:31 pm

There were a LOT of people rescued by the vendors and their waverunners.We must agree on a plan–provide a deterrent e.g. a fine when double flags are flying. Back up double red flags with visible flashing lights at key areas. The latest pproblem waters caused groups of people to get in trouble- a single lifeguard is not adequate.
Logically if people are in trouble–there are several at a time. FIRST you must get them a flotation device–what better than by a specially equipped waverunner-with flotatation device and a pick up board on the back. Get the situation controlled and then pull the people to safety. THAT IS WHY THE VENDORS < WHO ARE NOT LIFEGUARDS < HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL OVER THE YEARS..


7 Jim June 3, 2008 at 5:07 pm

A lot of good ideas here. Maybe we could split the cost between the city, the county maybe even the state could chip in. How about the Rental Management companies that show healthy margins?


8 Tricia June 4, 2008 at 9:43 am

Did you know that we do have certified life guards on the beaches and they are not even paid to be life guards? Where ever you see chairs lined up behind a condo, you will see an attendent taking care of the chairs..renting jet ski rides, etc. They are all required to be a certified Life Guard. Why can’t we give these guys and girls a little extra money to do what they are trained to do. Alot of people were saved by these certified life guards and they received no recognition for the lives that they saved.


9 Jason Koertge June 5, 2008 at 6:02 am

You are absolutely correct, Tricia. Keven Pearl, the guy that was on the front page of the News Herald yesterday is actually my neighbor. He said they go out all the time for rescues, all the time. These guys need to be recognized.

They do this not because they want to, but because in many cases they are the only ones that can help. Kevin expressed concern that our local officials lack the ability to make something like this happen.

Everyone else is doing it, why is it so difficult for us to get on board.


10 Russ June 10, 2008 at 9:54 am

If the government wants to tax the tourists extra to pay for lifeguards that is fine; but the residents cannot support a greater burden than already imposed. The last thing we need is more government employees. I like the idea of further investigation of compensation to the individuals already working on the beach.


11 Maureen June 10, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Likely, the powers that be in PCB, who make the decisions about such frivolous things as lifeguards, want money coming in, not going out. Gee, with the new Fight Club that’s just been added to Thomas Drive and unguarded beaches, PCB is bound to get the sort of vacationers that just sing of unbathed, uncouth, unsober.


12 Leanna June 17, 2008 at 8:09 am


even the unbathed, uncouth, and unsober don’t derserve to die a preventable drowing death.


13 Maureen June 17, 2008 at 9:33 am

Leanna: You missed my point, which was obvious. Since you didn’t get it the first time, I’m not going to try and explain what I meant. You’re obviously not capable of grasping tongue-in-cheek. That said, I am IN FAVOR (did you hear that?) of lifeguards.


14 gabe June 18, 2008 at 7:59 am

Why not got to south walton fire district and ask them how they are doing it. That would be a good start.


15 bonnie July 11, 2008 at 9:06 pm

I would be a tourist at PCB because I lived most of my life in Florida. I will not be a tourist and I will tell anyone who asks me, why. PCB is not a safe place to swim or travel. My son drown in 1995 in May ( which is not Spring Break time). He was caught in a rip current. The so called life guards were off duty at 5:30 P.M. and were putting away the chairs and other things. The multi colored flags were flying everywhere and no one could tell if the flags were a warning or not. There were not any people on wave runners, life guards (certified to go into the surf), and no rescue teams. In VA we even have a water rescue team that is with the rescue squad. My son was trying to swim across the rip current for 30 minutes and no came to help him. The police and tourists stood on the shore and just watched as he drown. The police did not even call me to tell me my 18 year son was dead. Panama City Beach is not the place to go. It is run by a bunch of good ole boys who want all the money for themselves at the expense of the tourist.
Please put a $1.00 bed tax on the condos, motels, and other rentals.
Bonnie Sandell


16 l van karsen December 2, 2012 at 7:04 am

We have vacationed at PCB every year for the last 20 years with no Lifeguards. I am opposed for we feel you could put 20 lifeguards in front of every hotel and there would always be that one fool who would go into the water on a red flag or double red flag or triple red flag. And then if the lifeguard did not safe him, Lawsuit!!!! Take responsibility for oneself and your own children, do not pawn it off on someone else. There is a sense of Freedom at PCB and that makes it desirable. We have seen Beach Patrols call people out of the water on Red Flags, and then watched those same people go on down the Beach….and whoops BACK INTO THE WATER!!!!