To Swim or Not to Swim? – That is the question.

by August 4, 2008 • 22 comments

I can see the justification now – “I’ve come 5 hours to see this beach, and I’m gonna swim whether some flag says I can or not. I paid for this trip, I should be able to swim.” The problem here, you see, is not that the “evil” police or safety patrol wants to spoil your fun, its that THE WATER IS NOT SAFE. This is nobody’s fault. This should be taken with a grain of salt. Whining and complaining about it is just as useful and crying when a baseball game gets rained out.

“The locals all know about the flags and how they work, and many of them swim. Then when the tourists come in, that know little about how it works, they see the locals swimming and figure its ok to get in.” One beach resident and business owner said today.

Do the tourists not know about it, or are they just choosing to ignore it?

In the shade behind the Ocean Towers Condominiums a Georgia man with his two sons said, “We know about the flags, we’re pretty much staying out. I’ll let the boys play at the [water’s] edge, but that’s about it.”

At every public beach access point, a sign is posted that explains the Beach Warning Flag system and spells out what each color flag means. It reads:

  • Double Red Flag: Water Closed to Public
  • Single Red Flag: High Hazard
  • Yellow Flag: Medium Hazard
  • Green Flag: Low Hazard
  • Purple Flag: Dangerous Marine Life

Also a sign is displayed that says no lifeguard on duty, swim at own risk.

So far this year 10 people have drowned in our waters, according to the article in the News Herald this morning, including one man this morning. Is that a record breaker for our area? What is the most for one tourist year in Panama City Beach?

Maybe the media is spending too much time talking about the deaths, and not enough time on how to prevent them. I’ll start.

DO NOT ENTER THE WATER IF A RED FLAG OR DOUBLE RED FLAGS ARE FLYING. Why? BECAUSE YOU COULD DIE.

A little bold? Possibly, but are people listening? If you think you are strong enough to swim out of it, think again. I’d be willing to bet that all 10 that have lost their lives thought they were strong enough to “handle” the waters and that the double red flag conditions didn’t apply to them.

Again, I’ll reiterate what the flags mean.

Beach Warning Flags WATER CLOSED TO PUBLIC – DO NOT GET IN THE WATER!!!

Beach Warning Flags HIGH HAZARD – High Surf and/or Strong Currents

Beach Warning Flags MEDIUM HAZARD – Moderate Surf and/or Strong Currents

Beach Warning Flags LOW HAZARD – Calm Condition, Exercise Caution

Beach Warning Flags DANGEROUS MARINE LIFE

People, this isn’t to ruin your fun, this is to save your life.

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1 Steve Evans August 4, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Personally, I don’t think the flag system is going to ever work until they start enforcing fines or penalties on those folks who choose to ignore it. If you give a ticket to someone who swims with a double red flag that costs them $100, you’ll start getting their attention. Until then, you’re just spitting in the wind.

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2 Rob August 5, 2008 at 6:48 am

I think the problem is not changing the flags in a timly manner. My house is on the west end,and after a rough day where there was a red flag, it stays red even if the water looks like a lake. Its this lack of credability that hurts as well. People can see clearly that the flag system doesnt really reflect the surf conditions,So they eventually just disreguard them.

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3 ANN VELAZQUEZ August 5, 2008 at 8:52 am

What are the ages of the dealths and how far out were they? Were they all tourist and are we sure there was no fowl play?

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4 Wendy August 5, 2008 at 10:37 am

As a tourist destination, we market our beautiful beaches to travelers. We must also be proactive by enforcing Rental Properties to advise the tourists of the water conditions. As a tourist destination; we must educate our visitors on proper beach safety. All condo, hotel and vacation home rentals must be required to post and advise visitors on safety. Without proper beach safety countless visitor’s lives will be lost and our destination will not evolve as a lifetime tourist family destination.

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5 Susan August 5, 2008 at 11:11 am

To the comment above about ‘are we sure there was no fowl play?
WHAT???
That is the weirdest comment I have ever seen regarding this topic. Red flags are red flags… you can clearly see that the surf is big and rough… common sense should tell you to stay out of the water much less the posted signs and flags.
What… do you think that someone interested in offing their loved one is just waiting for a rough surf day so they can go out in the water… pretend to get in distress so as to intice their loved one in to save them and then ‘push’ them in to the lerking rip tide to do them in? That is just such a weird thing to say?
Sorry… just had to point that out.

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6 Cindy August 5, 2008 at 1:31 pm

I am responding to the comment about the foul play! WHAT!!!!!! I agree with Susan, that is rediculous. We were out there yesterday all day and let our children play right on the beach area. Of course they wanted to go into the water, we are locals and I swim very well. I even went into the water up to my knees a time or two and by 2:00pm the water was no longer just pulling at me like the devil, but was swirling around me like a whirlpool pulling me in several directions at once. I grew up on PCB and have swam my whole life. Even I, an avid swimmer knew when to call it quits and take the kids from the waters edge. This is serious and I think we need to fine any one that does not have enough sense to stay out on double red flag days. After yesterday that would include me. I have never experienced in my 45 years here the pull that I felt yesterday. It was extremely scary.

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7 Charley August 5, 2008 at 5:43 pm

The News Media needs to stop saying that it is OK for the Surfers to go in the Gulf when double red flags are flying. Other people think that they can swim as good as the Surfers and therefore it is OK for them to go in the water. If the Gulf is closed it should be closed to everyone and anyone going in the water should be fined. This should apply to everyone with no exceptions. We are dealing with peoples lives and all of the News Media should do everything they can to help prevent any future deaths. Don’t just report the deaths, do something to help prevent any future drowings.

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8 jamnolfin August 5, 2008 at 5:55 pm

So you are saying that when the surfs up you cant go surfing? We have very little surf as it is. 2 weeks from now school will start and there will be nobody in the water but surfers and you will forget about this topic and move on to something else. Talk to a cop about fining people and then come back here and talk logically. Cops dont have time to pull people out of the water, escort them back to their room to get their license, write a ticket. And what about juveniles that dont have ID. Ive spent all last week with Bobby Harding, chief of police in PCB at our 30 year class reunion and my son in law is a sheriffs deputy on the east end. Ive done my research, you are blowing it out of your backside. Like I said, let it go and it will be over in 2 weeks and you can go back to bitching about the airport.

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9 Jthorn August 6, 2008 at 1:10 pm

People can see the flags and the warning signs, but THEY choose to disregard the notices and some pay the ultimate price for their stupidity. I say just keep more body bags on stand-by and lets focus all the attention on other important issues, like keeping the drunks off the beaches and out of the drivers seat! WHat about all the juvenile delinquents roaming the strip and beaches causing trouble for the families just wanting to have a nice time?? There are more important things we could be dealing with here..!!! Time to clean up the “redneck riviera.”

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10 Shawn August 6, 2008 at 2:28 pm

Drunks roaming the beach and kids on the strip are the “more important things we could be dealing with?” How about a little perspective? People are dying and your biggest concern is that a seventeen year old might show her boobs on Spring Break.

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11 jamnolfin August 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Now Im all for people showing their boobs. You need a little perspective, Its a free country and you should be able to swim when you want. People live and people die, just give it 2 more weeks and it will be over. Quit trying to save the world by taking away freedoms you Nazi cow.

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12 bsandyi August 7, 2008 at 8:11 am

I can’t believe that anyone isn’t worried about the flag system and the drownings. My son died in May or 1995 and four others died that same weekend. There were no surf certified life guards on duty. No one would go in the water to save my son and he was above water for 30 mins. Please get surf certified life guards to patrol the beach from sun up to sun down. The hotels can pay for it.
Sad Mother in Virginia

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13 Barbara Mitchell August 9, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I feel as though things are not really being explained. Yes we post the double flags but the rib tides are not explained, most of the visitors think it means the waves. It needs to be explained the danger is currents under the waves. The ads on TV need to explain the currents.

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14 Kim August 12, 2008 at 8:55 am

Tourism is a major income source for Panama City Beach’s local economy. Why not spend some of those tax dollars to make our tourists and locals safer in the water? Other tourist destinations along our coast have lifeguards with smaller budgets than ours. I think that should be a priority with our elected officials.

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15 Kim August 12, 2008 at 9:11 am

I’m going to keep this real simple.

Tourism = $$$$ Income that directly effects our economy
Protect Tourism = Lifeguards (bed tax dollars at work)

GET A PLAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT!

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16 Sharon Ernst August 12, 2008 at 4:55 pm

I have watched the officials come along the beach and tell people to get out of the water, only to watch them drive away and the people get back into the water as soon as they are out of sight. How crazy is that?

As my dad says; it is not illegal to be stupid. If you ignore the warning flags, you are being stupid. If you swim at your own risk during double red or single red flags, especially not being around the gulf’s water all the time, you are taking a chance on losing your life. I imagine you can take another vacation if the weather stops you from going into the water. If you lose a family member due to your own stubborn disregard for the warning sign, I doubt you will feel like spending a vacation by the golf again.

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17 JThorn September 9, 2008 at 7:20 am

Grow up redneck. Your not the one with the million dollar home getting trashed by the redeneck tourists staying at slom condos next door. If you actuall lived on the beach you might have a cluse as to what the real issues are.

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18 Dave September 17, 2008 at 3:47 pm

It’s called a free country. It’s not the government’s job to allow us or prohibit us from being in the water!

If the county or city is concerned about the deaths, they need life-guards!!! I grew up in the Northeast and they NEVER close the water….. and they get big seas…. 8′ plus… on a regular basis. No, it’s not different than the Gulf Coast, they get rip-tides too.

Post the lifeguards, and get rid of the stupid flag system!!! If the area doesn’t have lifeguards, then no-one can say that the beach has any concern for the safety of visitors!!!

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19 Christina Durta September 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Yes, it is a free country. However, the problem is that the ramifications of your actions are not isolated to yourself.

Let’s look at what happens when someone in the water goes into distress. Should we then all side on the shore and look at you and say, “Well, I hope he is enjoying his freedom to swim whenever he wants. Too bad he is going to die because he made a bad decision. Oh well, I guess he is shark bait.”

No, this is not what happens. It becomes a major production to come rescue you. Other people have to now risk their life to help you. Resouces have to be expended.

So, I’m all for freedom, but you should not put other people at risk or cause others to spend money.

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20 Carolee September 23, 2008 at 9:12 am

Issue Toe Tags …Forget the RED Flag..maybe that would get their attention… I’m for fines…steep one, How about the fines be equel to the cost of a rescue..

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21 Jake September 23, 2008 at 9:24 am

“Fowl play?”

I wouldn’t discount it. I saw some pretty vicious looking seagulls fly by the other day. And I’ve never trusted those durn sand pipers either.

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22 James October 10, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Honestly, if someone wants to kill themself its up to them. If you want to be stupid, its your choice. As long as your decision doesn’t affect anyone else, you can do whatever you want.

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