Life Guards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it!

Ok, so the big question is, lifeguards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it, why aren’t we? Local officials have argued that the cost is too much and the liability is too great. What!!?? What is everyone else doing? I should quantify “everyone else.”

As reported by the News Herald’s Ed Offley (great article Ed!) lifeguards can be found on the east coast from Jacksonville to Miami and on the Gulf Coast from Sarasota to Naples, not to mention most of the Panhandle has lifeguards posted on the beaches, including Walton County and Destin. As reported, the 43 miles of shoreline in Gulf County doesn’t have any issues with rip currents as it is protected in large part by Cape San Blas.

Bay County has the largest tourist population in the Panhandle counties, according to the article, and is the last hold out when it comes to lifeguarding our beaches.

Walton County’s lifeguard program costs a little over $800,000 a year to fund, and that pays for everything from supplies to salaries to an advertising/awareness campaign to inform tourists of the dangers of swimming in the water and the roles the lifeguards play to help increase safety.

Walton County has a 4% bed tax and funds the lifeguard program from those monies. We have a 3% bed tax and are considered “cheap”. At the strategic planning meeting I attended, it was discussed that we need to increase our bed tax. Some competing tourist destinations are charging twice what we are, and we need the extra money for our skimpy marketing budget. Furthermore, we could use an increase in bed tax funds to fund a lifeguard program. I’m not sure that we are losing that many tourists from this lack so far, but if we don’t get caught up, we will.

18 thoughts on “Life Guards on Panama City Beach – everyone else is doing it!

  1. It amazes me to think that we’re the backwards county on this issue. It seems like one might debate on whether it’s useful to spend that much money on saving just a very few lives — I think I’d still be on the side of spending it — but it seems like a moot point when we’re the only ones left, for sure…


  2. Is it useful spending that much money on saving just a few lives???? Even ONE life is worth the money! You CANNOT put a price tag on a human life!

    That said, we need and should have lifeguards on our beaches. Irregardless of what other counties do, we need to provide a safe destination for the tourists that flock to our beaches. If I was choosing a destination for our family, and found two to my liking, one that had my families safety in mind, and one that thought safety was too expensive, I can guarantee you which I would chose!

    ’nuff said!


  3. You can put a price tag on it if you are talking about spending my money, you pay for it. I think lifeguards are a waste of money, stay out of the water. i already pay too much taxes on my condo. You dont see locals getting caught in riptides.


  4. Absolutely!
    We have a moral obligation to protect our guests.
    For sure its about money as greedy Hotel Owners, Developers, and of course us poor Condo Owners, dont want to spend any of their “profts” (Losses)on wastefull things like portecting their customers. The beach does a lousy job oby spreading the word with its flag system and most tourist are ignorant about the ript time. Its uncivilized not to provide life guards, or at least inform our guest of the dangers.

    With all the new condos and hundred of millions in new taxes the Beach can afford to protect its cash cow, out guests. As tourism increases the problem will increase, and we will pay one way or another.

    Most tourist wouldn’t mind a 1 cent increase in the bed tax to fund life guards, how about a tax on beach front condo’s. Let those who use it pay for it.

    I don’t like taxes, but we have an obligation to protect our guests.


  5. jamnolfin, no one is trying to take your money. If they fund the lifeguard program with bed tax dollars, the tourists pay for it, the same ones that you say are the only ones that need them.

    I’d love for you to verify your statement that locals don’t “get caught in riptides.”


  6. It doesn’t matter how experienced of a swimmer you are, or what color the flag is… there is always a present danger when you enter the water. (local or not!) Therefore, there is always a value in having lifeguards. I don’t think “not haveing lifeguards” will detour tourists from coming to the beach, but hearing about a “10 year old boy drowned” or “father of two drowned” absolutely will!


  7. I have a hard time believing that PCB has even one tourist go somewhere else versus here because of the lack of lifeguards.


  8. Amen, Russ. When is the last time you’ve heard of a local drowning blamed on riptides? Swim at your own risk and i dont want to charge for lifeguards either. Id rather pay for improvements on front beach road, something that benefits me and not some a-hole that gets in the water when they shouldnt. You are going to have so many drownings a year average with or without lifeguards. Quit trying to save the world at my expense.


  9. Here’s the thing; a lot of people in Bay County are trying very hard to change our image from a self-centered, money grubbing, good old boy, red neck Rivera beach resort to a well rounded, civic minded, family oriented beach community. Those in the first camp are opposed to the airport, lifeguards, street widening, and limitations on Spring Break, and don’t like Pier Park. Those in the second camp want the airport, lifeguards, improved streets and transportation, community involvement, and civic responsibility. What people in the second camp know from experience and from studying history is that towns that do not think outside their selfish interests do not prosper. It is sort of funny in a way, focus on yourself and your costs and you loose. Focus on others and making a better place to live and you will win in lower costs, less crime, and healthier community. You choose, short sighted me-ism or future oriented community-ism. You want your condo’s to continue to loose value then stay in the first camp. It is as simple as that. This is not just my opinion, it is a fact that has been proven over and over in the United States. Why do you think so many communities have lifeguards? Because it is best for the communities! Your arguments for not having lifeguards would be like not paying for traffic signals. After all the locals no how to use the back roads, and if it is difficult and dangerous for tourists to not have crosswalks and red lights, well tough for them. Really, is this the image you want for PCB?


  10. I live in Vancouver, and we have lifeguards at some of our beaches, not all. But I certainly don’t recall ever hearing on the news about a rescue made by a lifeguard that saved someone’s life, but they may have prevented children from entering the water unsupervised, and I just don’t know about it.

    I certainly think during spring break where there maybe a bunch of 20-25 year olds drinking at or near the beach it’s probably a good idea. Water, alcohol, and young adults thinking they are invincible is inherently a bad combination. So at a minimum I think there should be lifeguards during this time period and evaluate the results to see if it’s warranted further. As mentioned it’s the preventive effect that’s worth examining. If a lifeguard stops three drunks from thinking it would be funny to throw a fourth passed out guy in the water, it’s worth the cost. If a lifeguard stops a couple of unsupervised kids from going into potentially dangerous waters, again it’s worth the cost.


  11. I guess Im in the 3rd camp of thought. Im for the airport, cra, pier park because i own a condo at calypso and a house on the west end. I guess Im not vehemently opposed to lifeguards, I just think they are a waste. Like I said with or without lifeguards People will drown. Maybe just hire really good looking people for this job so at least we get a Baywatch thing going on.


  12. The lifeguard issue is a “feel good” issue and will just be another job program that government seems to create to satisfy their elected bosses. I put this issue into the same area as the “tram system”. There are better ways to handle this than to put someone in red swimsuits and give them whistle and surfboard. Do you really think that people that want to go into the water will obey a lifeguard when they don’t obey the “beach police” when they ride the beach. Hey the police have a gun! We had lifeguards at our motel back in the 60’s and their main job was to talk to the people and keep the beach and pool clean. Since the Gulf is not rough all the time, then the lifeguards are just drawing money.

    To understand the problem, you need to realize the what is happening. If you are the swimmer and need help, you are either in trouble or drowned already. If in trouble you need help getting back to shore. If drowned, you need advanced life support and a fast trip to the hospital.

    In trouble, there needs to be a system in place with the best equipment to rescue you. Beefing up the fire department is the best option at this time. After watching several responses at the beach, I believe that a 6 wheel ATV towed behind a fire department pickup truck to the nearest beach access would save time when time is of the essence. On the ATV would be a skidoo that could be unloaded right into the Gulf. There would also be other rescue equipment on the ATV. By using the pickup to get near the location and the ATV to get to the water, your rescuers are not winded from running in the sand and carrying all of their gear. You never let a rescuer become a victim. Try running in our sand with 30 pounds and see how you feel. The skidoo offers power over the waves and ability to give the swimmer something to hold onto rather than a swimming rescuer.

    On the Med units, the fire department ATV could carry the patient to the hard surface where the ambulance is parked, while the Paramedics are working the patient. If you have ever done CPR, imagine doing it and trying to carry a patient from the shore to the beach access. This requires 6 people or more depending on the size of the patient. By the time they get into ambulance, everyone is on the verge of being wornout and there is still the 15 mile ride.

    One other observation is that the “beach” needs to be operated as a complete unit. No county or city, just the “beach”. Everyone is dispatched by the same 911 center. No transfers depending on the nature of the call for help. Every transfer is time lost for the same info. Time is the thing that will change the swimmer from in trouble to drowned.

    You cannot prevent “stupid”, you can only prepare for it.


  13. As a search and rescue professional, I say definitely on the life guard issue. Does anyone know the value of one life? 3 Million!!! I’d hate to tell that to the family that just lost someone because we didn’t have anyone watching over their children. You cannot put a price tag on human life and I agree that since the money comes from the tourists, then let’s go for it!


  14. Lifeguards are not there to babysit. So it doesn’t matter if we “obey” them. People who can’t swim can’t do so whether the water is rough or calm. So bossing people around about not going in when its red flag isn’t going to save any lives. They think they can swim in green flag and then realize out there that they cannot. Lifegards spot these people. Then there are those that think they are ok in yellow flag only to realize that they are not. Then again there are those that are totally fine in red flag and they should not be bossed around whether or not to swim during red flag. Then there are those that are totally fine in red flag, but get a cramp or something and need assistance on a green flag day.

    Real lifegards serve a purpose; it’s not the job you had in the 60s. Its not baywatch, its the difference between life and death.


  15. Life Guards would be great IF they are required to be CPR Certified. I was visiting a water park in Fort Walton Beach a couple of years ago when a child was found on the bottom of the pool. The Life Guard pulled her to the surface but left her there to go call 911. He was not CPR Certified. He had no idea what to do. Thank God she is okay.I was shocked to hear that Florida does NOT REQUIRE LIFEGAURDS TO BE CPR CERTIFIED!!!! I had no idea that the Life Guard who was watching my children did not know CPR. I think it should be mandantory for all Life Guards to be CPR Certified.


  16. The statement “Florida does not require their lifeguards to be CPR certified” is a mis-statment. Florida is not the certifying agency. Whichever agency certified the Lifeguard during their training is who should be approached regarding this issue. For instance, the Red Cross lifeguard program provides Lifeguards with a 3 year Lifeguard/First Aid certification. The guards are also certified in (Red Cross) CPR for the Professional Rescuer or (American Heart Association) Basic Life Support. The guards are informed that the CPR certification is good for one year and that to keep their Lifeguard certificate current they are REQUIRED to re-certify in CPR annually. Beach Police will tell you that when they check the certificates of the beach vendors (who are required by the city to be Lifeguard certified), they check for BOTH the Lifeguard certification and current CPR certification.


  17. Chrissy, the person at the water park was probably a “ride attendant” not a lifegard. I worked at a waterpark when I was 14, which was too young to be CPR certified at the time, and I was a “guest assistant” who worked on the rides. People usually thought I was a lifeguard just because I wore a bathing suit and had a whistle.

    Another issue to point out is that Waterpark/Pool Lifegards at water parks are COMPLETELY different from Ocean/Beach lifegards. I hope when we do finally get lifegards on the beach, that Bay County has the sense enough to know the difference.


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