Beach Warning Flags
Flag Colors & What They Mean:
DOUBLE RED FLAG
Very High Hazard and water closed to public.
High Hazard with high surf and strong currents.
Medium Hazard with moderate surf and/or strong currents.
Low Hazard with calm conditions, but caution still advised.
Dangerous marine life.
Beach conditions are provided by Beach & Surf Patrol, and they can change at any time. We highly recommend that for your safety, you get text alerts when the flags change. Sign up by texting “PCBFLAGS” to 888777 or by clicking here.
What is a Rip Current?
A rip current is a strong and narrow current of water that occurs near beaches with breaking waves. The rip moves away from the shore and is seen above in the calm waters. Rip currents in the Gulf are unpredictable, dangerous and deadly.
Many of our visitors have never been to the Gulf and are not accustomed to the pull of a rip current. The current can be so strong that it can easily pull even good swimmers out to sea. The only way to escape a rip current is to swim parallel to the shore. As the current weakens, you will then be able to swim ashore. Rip currents are very common when tropical systems, hurricanes and other storms are in the Gulf. Swimmers should never try and swim against the rip.
Even though Beach Safety places a lot of emphasis on double-red flags, drownings can occur even during yellow flags when the water is calm. Please use good judgment while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
Here’s what to look for when it comes to rip currents:
- Discoloration of water
- Unusual choppiness
- Debris and foam moving seaward
Learn how to identify and avoid rip currents and remember:
- If you’re caught in a rip current, don’t panic. Swim parallel to the shore until the current weakens, then swim back to the shore.
- Rip currents are strong, localized rivers of water that usually flow away from the beach at a surprisingly high velocity.
- Usually rip currents are associated with large waves and strong offshore winds, but not always. In rare cases, rip currents occur during calm conditions.
Beach Safety Rules
The Beach Safety division of Panama City Beach Fire Rescue operates the City’s lifeguard program. There are five full-time beach safety responders who are headquartered at the Russell-Fields City Pier. While these responders are on duty year-round, they are part of a roving team, responding as needed in the off season.
The peak season is from April 1 through September 30, when more than a dozen seasonal responders are also on duty, as well as supplemental rescuers who are full-time firefighters certified in open-water rescue though the United States Lifeguarding Association (USLA). During hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, additional Code Enforcement officers are beachside, helping protect locals and visitors.
Panama City Beach utilizes the internationally accepted beach flag warning system in an effort to protect our estimated 4.5 million visitors and locals from dangerous rip currents. The flag meanings are explained in detail below. Double-red flags mean the Gulf is closed to swimmers. With the exception of surfers tethered to a board, no one is allowed to be in the water when double reds are flying. Look for educational materials on these warning flags in your hotel, condo or vacation rental, as well as at every public beach access point. Flags are located up and down the beach both inside and outside of the City limits.
In 2019, the City Council imposed fines for failing to get out of the water during double-red flags, when instructed by City personnel. The Council revised the ordinance in 2020, and a first offense is a $500 fine, which drops to $250 if paid within 20 days. A second offense is $1,000.