As South Walton enters into its most busy time of year beach safety is at the top of many local residents’ priority lists. While Spring and Summer offer tons of fun activities and new adventures, danger is often lurking just below the water’s surface. Many visitors and even some locals are not educated on proper beach safety measures, leading to multiple drownings each year.
One such drowning took place when a Texas man attempted to rescue a young boy who had become distressed while swimming. Fifty-four-year-old Timothy Browne, who was both a husband and a father, found himself given an opportunity for heroism and acted promptly. A young boy, along with a multitude of other people, had chosen to go swimming despite the rough gulf conditions and became caught up in the current. Seeing the boy in distress, Mr. Browne attempted to intervene. The boy eventually made it to shore, but unfortunately, Browne was found slumped over in the water when rescuers arrived and was not able to be revived. All too often people are willing to swim in high-risk conditions, leading to incidents such as this one.
The State of Florida has chosen to implement a uniform beach flag system indicating surf conditions as well as marine life dangers. Many residents and tourists find themselves traveling across the state and having the beach flag system in place has proven to reduce some risk when it comes to enjoying Florida’s beautiful beaches. There are four colors of beach flags, each identifying different surf conditions. Green flags are an indication of near-perfect beach weather with calm waters and few riptides. Yellow flags show that surf conditions have shifted to slightly more dangerous and that caution should be used when swimming. Single red flags indicate rough surf conditions, and visitors to the beach are encouraged to stay out of the water, while a double red flag shows that surf conditions have become too dangerous and the water is closed. The fourth flag, a purple flag that is displayed with one of the other colors, shows that dangerous marine life may be present close to the shore. This includes jellyfish, sharks, and other aquatic animals.
South Walton’s Beach Safety Director David Vaughn commented, “the number one thing people need to be more aware of when it comes to beach safety is that the flag system exists and represents the best method for assessing the risk levels as well as the respect with which you should approach your decision making when entering the water.”
In addition to its uniform beach flag system, the state of Florida has taken a multitude of precautions when it comes to riptides. Riptides are unseen currents that cut through seemingly calm waters, dragging sand, rocks, marine life, and people into deeper waters. Once caught in a riptide it becomes very difficult to get out. The majority of people naturally panic and attempt to swim towards the shore, which actually makes it near impossible to be released from the riptide. Instead, swimmers should swim parallel to the beach until they are out of the riptide and then swim towards the shore. All along Florida’s beaches, one can find signs painted to boardwalks and set up near the water warning visitors of riptides and encouraging them to stay calm and take proper precautionary measures when dealing with them. This simple measure has saved hundreds of lives.
RIP CURRENT INFORMATION
How to Identify a Rip Current
- Darker color surf, indicating deeper water
- Murky brown water caused by sand stirred up on the bottom
- Smaller unorganized waves, alongside more evenly breaking waves over a sand bar
- Waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip current
How to Help Someone Caught in a Rip Current
- Notify a lifeguard
- Have someone call 911, give accurate landmarks
- Do not enter the water, you too will be caught in the current
- Throw them a flotation device
- Try not to lose sight of the victim
What To Do If You Are Caught in a Rip Current
- Don’t panic or swim against the current
- Relax, float with the current until it dissipates
- Swim parallel to shore and back in
- Of course, the best way to avoid a rip current is to know the surf conditions before entering the water!
- Know the conditions and watch the flags!
“Lifeguards are available at Regional Beach Accesses March 1 – October 31 with limited roving coverage year-round. Lifeguards are provided by South Walton Fire District and funded as a part of the Visit South Walton Beach Safety Program. Regional Beach Accesses include Miramar Beach, Dune Allen, Fort Panic, Ed Walline, Gulfview Heights, Blue Mountain, Van Ness Butler Jr., Santa Clara and Inlet Beach.”
The South Walton Fire District (SWFD) offers beach wheelchairs at the following beach accesses: Miramar Beach Regional Beach Access (Pompano Joe’s), Ed Walline Regional Beach Access (Gulf Place), the Santa Clara Regional Beach Access (Seagrove), and Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access from 10 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. daily, through the lifeguard season. An interactive map of lifeguard towers and beach wheelchair locations is available here.
Each chair must be operated by an on-duty lifeguard and a beach wheelchair waiver must be signed by the beach wheelchair patron or their caregiver. It is requested that the beach patron limit the usage of the beach wheelchair to the beach area in the immediate area of the public beach access. In order to facilitate the possible need for multiple patrons, it is recommended that the beach patron’s personal chair be used once the patron has reached their beach location.
What are the rules you need to know before flying your drone in South Walton? From FAA rules, regulations and guidelines to ordinances specific to Walton County, you can find a round-up of pertinent drone regulations by clicking here.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office can provide assistance through Project Lifesaver which makes it possible to locate lost Alzheimer’s patients. Parties considering the service should call (850) 478-7790.