Florida's Beach Warning Flag System

Florida's Panhandle region is known for our beautiful white sand beaches, with 27 miles of beach and 96 public beach easements in Bay County alone. Our coastal waters attract both residents and tourists, eager to enjoy nature's gift to the region. We encourage people to enjoy both the business and leisure possibilities of these waterfront areas. However, our Panama City beach injury lawyer has seen many lives tragically altered or even lost due to coastal accidents. We urge people to avoid beach injury by making safety a top priority and teaching their children to do the same.

Ignoring Warnings Raises Danger for Beachgoers

The county's flag warning system is a fundamental tool used by the Beach Patrol to keep beachgoers safe. However, according to a report in the News Herald, too many people ignore the warning flags. Despite the fact that the signal warns of danger and signifies that the water is closed to public use, the Beach Patrol still sees a major spike in assistance calls during double red flag conditions (the highest warning level).

Both the Panama City Beach Police Department ("PCBPD")'s Surf Unit and Bay County Sheriff's Office ("BCSO") Beach Patrol monitor the city's beach areas. Overall, officials fielded 257 water calls in 2012, leading to 77 incident reports for the beach area (up from 120 calls and 33 reports in 2011). About 30% of the incident reports occurred in double-red flag conditions. There is one especially frightening statistic – a full half of the drownings seen by officials happened on a single day. On July 21, responders rescued dozens of swimmers from Gulf waters amid high surf conditions, but three people perished as a result of water-related emergencies.

Notably, there is only a small lifeguard program in Bay County, an effort still in its infancy that includes two guards at Russell-Fields City pier from April through September. While the PCBPD and BCSO units patrol the area, they lack the advantage life guards have of covering a very specific focal zone. Will Spivey, head of the beach's lifeguard program, notes that the Gulf waters are dynamic and he warns that it can be difficult to spot shifting currents. These factors combine to make the preventative efforts of all the safety groups even more important.

Understanding the Florida Beach Warning Flags

Beachgoers, including swimmers, surfers, boaters, and those using other personal watercraft, should familiarize themselves with the flag warning system. Per the News Herald, Florida's legislature adopted the statewide safety system in 2005. The five different flag symbols are:

  • Green – Low hazard levels. Conditions are suitable for swimming.
  • Yellow – Medium hazard levels, includes moderate surf and/or currents.
  • Red (single) – High hazard levels, includes strong currents.
  • Red (double) – Danger. Water is closed to the public.
  • Purple – Indicates presence of dangerous marine life.

More information is available at the Tourist Development Council and on public easements, as well as via fliers and posters in hotels and other rental units. Importantly, the flags focus on overall surf conditions and do not focus on rip currents.

We hope that both residents and visitors enjoy all our shores have to offer. Safety may not always seem like a fun topic, but an accident can derail even the best of days. We hope people heed the flag system and other directions given by safety officials, ensuring that memories are of the beach and not the emergency room.

As always, if you have been injured due to the negligence or wrongful act of another person or an organization, call our Panama City injury lawyer. Our firm's personal injury and wrongful death practice includes beach-related issues, such as those stemming from negligence and product liability related matters.

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