Deadly Panhandle

Florida Warning Flags
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The suit alleges red flags were inadequate to warn people out of the water at St. Andrew State Park near Panama City.

Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathalyn Gaither says hauling down the flags puts the responsibility for entering the water solely on each visitor.

A Missouri family sued the state in April, five days after he was posthumously awarded a medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for sacrificing his life while attempting to save a local couple caught in a rip current.

The couple he had tried to save were rescued by other swimmers.

More than 50 people, including at least 24 last year, who have drowned on Florida Panhandle beaches over the past four years.

The Florida Legislature this year passed a law that removed warning flags from state parks without lifeguards because other employees could not switch them quickly enough to match changing surf conditions. 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.

Never underestimate the power of the ocean.