There have been three drownings since last week, not to mention near deaths that left swimmers in critical condition. Perhaps the saddest part about these deaths is that they could have possibly been prevented.
"I don't think they're trying to be disrespectful, they just don't understand," said Sammy Sanchez, Fire Marshall with the South Walton Fire District.
With the recent anniversary of Black Sunday, when 10 years ago eight people drowned in rip currents, the importance of educating swimmers about taking safety precautions is more evident than ever.
To read more about Black Sunday, click here
"I'm concerned," said Walton County Commissioner, Sara Comander. "I know people are given the education. You can lead a horse to water..."
SWFD regularly updates social media with flag warnings, not to mention their lifeguards that patrol the beach. The Visit South Walton website keeps beach conditions updated on the home page. And The Tourist Development Council is always looking for innovative ways to educate visitors, said Louis Svehla, public information manager for the Board of County Commissioners.
"It's something that is always discussed, it's front of the mind when we know there's going to be an influx of people," Svehla said. "We have stickers that pizza restaurants can place on the delivery boxes — that are a program open to any private business. We have a text program and a smartphone app to educate people. Whether it's our locals or those on vacation, safety is paramount."
Walton County has done a tremendous job during the Operation Dry Spring Break, sending the message to breakers that underage drinking was not to be tolerated by issuing arrests and party busts. The Walton County Sheriff's Office has the power to issue citation to those swimmers who disregard double red flags and lifeguard's orders. So far this year, WCSO has filed eight violations with the clerk of court. The TDC Code Enforcement Officer has that ability as well. The non-criminal citations are $100.
"I think the sheriff's department does a good job — they have 26 miles of beach to patrol," Sanchez said. "They can give citations, but as soon as they pass by, people will get back in the water. We've got to get people to fully understand the dangers."
Last year, WCSO received a little bit of flack from country singer Jason Aldean when he was issued his a citation for swimming on a double red flag day. The celebrity took his frustration to Facebook saying, "Dear officer who gave me a ticket on the beach today for swimming in the water with double red flags...thanks for the warning Barney Fife."
While citations may be tangible reminder to heed the warnings of the colorful flags, safety starts with the individual swimmers, Sanchez said.
"The flags are there for a reason," he said. "Know your abilities, be familiar with your surroundings and respect the Gulf."