'Heed the warnings': Beach safety chief urges swimmers to be cautious during holiday weekend

Matt Algarin
Shayne Bryant, a lifeguard command officer with the beach safety division of the Destin Fire Control District, uses an all-terrain vehicle to patrol a crowded section of beach during the Fourth of July weekend in 2011.

With the Fourth of July week off to a soggy start, Destin's beach safety chief urges beachgoers to be mindful of the Gulf's condition when, and if, the sun comes out.

"It's not a good forecast for the beach," Joe D'Agostino told The Log Tuesday. "The conditions are not going to be good for swimming."

Rain and stormy weather is in the forecast for the next five days, which could lead to strong surf and rip currents.

Given high seas and winds that are expected to continue throughout the weekend, beach safety lifeguards will not be as busy as expected, but they will still be out on the beaches in full force educating those who dare to venture into the Gulf of Mexico. Red flags are currently flying on Destin's beaches.

While the beaches more than likely will not be closed to the swimming public, D'Agostino said visitors could put their life in jeopardy if they enter the water more than knee or waist deep.

With a majority of the areas hotels booked solid due to the holiday, there should be plenty of visitors to the beach, despite the weather.

"It's hard when people are on vacation," he said. "Sure, they come here to play golf and go shopping, but the main reason they come is to go to the beach."

To stay up to date on the latest beach conditions call the beach safety hotline at 850-685-0610.

Since lifeguards cannot physically restrain people from entering the water, D'Agostino said the key is to make them aware of the dangers.

"I just hope people heed the warnings," he said. "It's really just that simple."

Flag Warning System: Double Red Flag: Water is closed to public (dangerous water conditions) Red Flag: High Hazard (high surf and/or strong currents) Yellow Flag: Medium Hazard (moderate surf and/or currents) Green Flag: Low Hazard (calm conditions, exercise caution) Purple Flag: Marine Pests Present (jellyfish, stingrays, dangerous fish)

How To Identify A Rip Current One or more of the following features indicate the presence of 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

What To Do If You See Someone Else 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’re 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.