The official mark of the summer season is upon us—Memorial Day weekend. As schools around the nation release for summer break, families from all over will descend on Walton County to enjoy all we have to offer. The influx of people to the area means citizens and visitors need to pay attention to their surroundings, whether on the roadway or in the emerald green waters of the Gulf.
There are several safety tips the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) offers up to the public.
1) Travel/road safety: The increased traffic on the roadways can be hazardous. Take precautions.
- Being in a hurry to get to the beach or shopping center could mean drivers are not aware of vehicles maneuvering around them, especially if they are not familiar with the area. Drivers are cautioned to familiarize themselves with the area ahead of time.
- Don’t drink and drive or travel with anyone who has been drinking.
- Wear seatbelts at all times and make sure vehicles have been serviced before a long road trip.
2) Beach Flag System: Get acquainted and abide by the rules that have been set forth for your safety.
- South Walton beaches follow Florida’s uniform beach warning flag system, designed to alert beachgoers to changing surf conditions and their relative safety to swimmers. Because the Gulf of Mexico is a natural body of water, dangerous rip currents can be present even under seemingly calm conditions. By heeding the flag system, beachgoers can remain safe.
- The easiest way to keep abreast of changing surf conditions is through South Walton’s text alert system. Simply text the word “SAFETY” to 67463 to have daily updates sent to your mobile phone for the duration of your stay. You may also check out http://www.visitsouthwalton.com/beach-safety or http://www.swfd.org/beach.php which details beach flag colors and current weather conditions.
3) Boater and swimmer safety: Memorial Day weekend is often the time of year that boaters begin to come out in full force to enjoy our beaches and waterways.
- Boaters should remember to wear their life jackets, as 67% of the 55 boating deaths last year in Florida resulted from drowning (according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). Operators of vessels, just as with vehicles on the roadway, should remain sober.
- Boaters should also be aware of maritime rules, water conditions and swimmers in the area.
- Marine pests, such as jellyfish, are present in our waters. For jelly fish stings, rinse away the tentacles using hot water if possible. If heated water isn’t available, use salt water rather than fresh. Fresh water may worsen the stinging pain.
- Don’t swim alone and supervise children at all times in and near the water.
- Identify points on the beaches where lifeguards are stationed. Lifeguards will be stationed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- Learn to identify rip current conditions. One or more of the following features indicate the presence of a rip current:
•Darker color surf
•Murky brown water caused by sand stirred up on the bottom
•Smaller unorganized waves, alongside more evenly breaking waves over a sand bar
•Waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip current
4) Sun Safety: Even if water-related activities are not in the plans for this holiday, you may want to enjoy Florida’s sunny weather. If you do so, make sure you are prepared.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and apply it generously throughout the day
- Wear a hat and sunglasses
- Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated