The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation's beaches exceeds 100. Rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards. In one week alone, we had 3 percent of the nation's yearly total for our little 26 miles of beach.

The United States Lifesaving Association has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million. If caught in a rip current at an unguarded beach, how you respond could make the difference between life and death.

A recent quote in our local paper read: "We’re as proactive as anybody and maybe even more than some,” said Sammy Sanchez, spokesman with South Walton Fire District. “People just don’t get the message.”

I agree, but people are still drowning at our shores, so the message isn't working. The Flag System isn't enough. Our first responders, lifeguards and the EMTs, and the Fire Department, are doing a great job and this is in no way a criticism of them. But they need a better support system in terms of more lifeguards on our beaches. There is too much distance between lifeguard stands.

We have the following nine Lifeguard Towers for 26 miles of Walton County shoreline — that's just one tower for every 2.9 miles of shoreline.

Trained, Certified Lifeguard Tower Locations starting March 9 and ending Sept. 29 include:

• Tower 1, Access #2, 438 South Orange Street, SWFD Zone 1, Inlet Beach

• Tower 2, Access #17, 3486 E. Co Hwy. 30A, SWFD Zone 2, Seagrove Beach

• Tower 3, Access #30, 1931 E. Co. Hwy. 30A, SWFD Zone 2, Seaside

• Tower 4, Access #36, 2365 S. Co. Hwy. 83, SWFD Zone 3, Blue Mountain Beach

• Tower 5, Access #37, 186 Gulfview Heights St., SWFC Zone 3, Santa Rosa Beach

• Tower 6, Access #39, 4447 W. Co. Hwy. 30A, SWFD Zone 3, Santa Rosa Beach

• Tower 7, Access #43, 5753 W. Co. Hwy. 30A, SWFD Zone 3, Santa Rosa Beach

• Tower 8, Access #49, east of 2375 Scenic Gulf Drive, SWFD Zone 5, Miramar Beach

• Tower 9, Access #49, west of 2375 Scenic Gulf Drive, SWFD Zone 5, Miramar Beach

For example, standing at the Ed Walline walkover, you would be hard pressed to see the next closest lifeguard stand either east to Goatfeathers or west to Dune Allen. That's entirely too much distance between guards, and it's too much area for the guards to closely see people in the surf.

If someone gets in trouble, minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

With more guards up close and personal on the beaches, anyone entering too far into the surf on a red flag day could be immediately whistled in closer to shore and be given a "verbal educational warning."

People just don't see the danger especially when they are excited to be on vacation and want to enjoy the gulf waters. Direct communication by enough guards on our beaches is the only way we can eliminate future unnecessary deaths due to these dangerous rip tides.

If the TDC advertises for people to come to the beach, they need to ensure their safety. The first priority for bed tax funds should be to ensure we have enough lifeguards 

I can't speak for Okaloosa County, but in Walton County we need more lifeguards, and people going into the water on red flag days need to be confronted by them. I know that sounds difficult for Walton County leaders who treat the tourists with "Kidd" gloves, but not if it can save lives. Our slogan for rip tides should be "not on my watch."

Fred Betz 

Santa Rosa Beach