A Day at the Beach

By: Alana Adams
By: Alana Adams

So many tourists come to the world's most beautiful beaches to spend time at the beach, so when the sun is shining, and the water is rough, many still want to go swimming.

Thus making Carol O'Neil's job somewhat frustrating.

"Red flags flying. There's dangerous undertows and rip currents. You should not be in the water …”

O'Neil is a beach and surf patrol officer with the Panama City Beach Police Department... days when the red flag is flying make her job a little harder.

"When we drive off, the people think we're gone and they go back out and venture in the water,” O’Neil adds.

Sandee Lamotte lost her husband last year when he drowned in a rip current trying to rescue their son.

She is now trying to get national legislation to require beach property owners to have guests sign a statement saying they understand the flag system.

O'Neil says this is a great idea.

"We know that if you are staying at a hotel, that you have signed a waver, so there should be no excuses on why they're swimming out in the Gulf,” O’Neil says.

And while many business owners say any effort to educate tourists is good, it might not help.

Lisa Tyler works at the Continental Condominiums and says it's hard enough getting guests to read anything.

"I don't think it would help that much because we can't always get people to read the information sheet, we always hand them out, but people seem to ignore them.”

Julie Hilton, an executive for Hilton Enterprises, thinks there are other ways to ensure safety.

"I would wonder whether that's the most effective way to communicate the message to people because when they're checking in, they're not necessarily thinking so much about the beach."

Major Dave Humphries with the Panama City Beach Police Department says tourists want to go to the beach, no matter what.

"People on vacation tend not to read things anyways. I think what you'll probably wind up with is people may sign that thing that say later, well I just signed it and I didn't know what I was signing."

Hilton says it's unfortunate, but some people will always disregard any type of warning.

"There certainly are people who choose to go out in the water regardless of what we say."

Last year 24 people drowned off the Panhandle's beaches, 16 were out-of-state tourists.

wjhg.com Extended Web Coverage

Ocean Swimming Safety

Recognize The Flags

Many beaches use a flag warning system to keep beachgoers informed about daily conditions. Learn the system -- and what each flag means -- before going into the water. These flags are flown from the lifeguard stands along the beachfront. The color code is:

Red Flag
Prohibited to go in the water, stay out. Flown when conditions are determined to be out of the ordinary, such as presence of strong wind, strong current or large surf.

Yellow Flag
Indicates caution should be used when entering any body of water. This flag is flown when undertow and riptide exists.

Blue Flag
Indicates calm seas, use everyday caution.

Know The Currents
Rip currents are narrow, river-like, currents that have been fed by the long shore current and sets of waves. You can easily spot a rip current by its foamy and choppy surface. The water in a rip current can be dirty brown from sand being turned up as it moves rapidly out to sea. Most rip currents in Texas occur near a pier or rock jetty! The rip current digs a trough in the ocean floor. As a result, waves do not usually break where there is a rip. If you are caught in a rip current - do not panic.

Stay Calm! Rip currents are not undertows, you can be pulled away from the shore but not pulled under the water. Call or wave for assistance or swim parallel to shore with the long shore current until you are out of the rip, then swim directly towards shore.

If you see someone caught in a rip or in distress, do not go in after them! Throw something that floats or extend a reaching object.

Source: A compliation of Web Reports contributed to this report.


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