If you're thinking of taking a dip on New Year's Day, you may notice something missing along South Walton's beaches.
The Tourist Development Center and the South Walton fire district have decided not to fly safety flags during the off season months.
Some locals aren't too happy about this change.
Local beach-goers are used to seeing beach safety flags flying along the public beaches of Walton County. That complacency is part of the reason why safety officials decided to take flags down during the off-season months of December, January and February.
Dept. Chief Sean Hughes with S.W.F.D. said, "If you always see something sometimes you become blind to it or unaware. It isn't significant. If they're absent for a while and then when our lifeguards go back on the beach they become more prevalent."
Beach safety officials say the flag system is most effective when signs are posted, flags are flying, and life guards are on duty to monitor water conditions.
According to the International Life Saving Federations, safety flags should only be flown on beaches with on-duty lifeguards.
Gary Wise with the Beach Safety Division said, "If those lifeguards are not on duty to reflect the conditions of the water then the beach flags that are flying may not actually represent the condition of the water at the time."
But some locals say a flag, even if it's the wrong flag, is better than nothing.
Ted Elmore, a Walton County resident, said, "It's wintertime, but it's a nice warm day. Who’s not going to get in the water? Now we don't have it today, but what if we did have an out current they need the flag up."
Safety officials have full confidence in the flag system. They say this decision puts a greater emphasis on the relationship between beach flags and lifeguard presence.
Surf conditions will still be monitored twice a day. You can check the beach flag status on the Fire District Web site. Flags will continue to fly year-round in Bay County.
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