“Do you think a ticket system will help deter people from entering dangerous waters on Panama City Beach?” This was the latest pcbdaily poll trying to determine whether this would be an effective deterrence strategy and help reduce drownings in our warm gulf waters.
There wasn’t exactly a colossal difference between those who voted for the ticket strategy and those who voted against officers being empowered to ticket those ignoring the flag warning system. The poll ended with 55% voting for and 45% voting against.
Well, those that voted for, got their way, sort of. The enforcable area only includes the unincorporated area of Panama City Beach.
Yesterday, at the regular Bay County Commission meeting, an emergency addition to the agenda included Sheriff Frank McKeithen’s plea to allow his officers to enforce their warnings to those swimming under red flag conditions. Before yesterday, sheriff deputies could warn people of the dangers, but had no way to enforce their warnings.
This has been a topic of debate for the last two weeks, coming up in various meetings and being discussed on the radio. Many beleive that this is an infringement on their right to swim in the Gulf if they want to. Some beleive that this is giving too much control to officers and that it is sure to be abused.
Others argue (and this is where I’m at) that when it comes to the point of endangering others, something has to be done. Sometimes our right to do things has to be infringed upon to protect us from ourselves. I mean, seriously, is the speed limit on Back Beach Road infringing on my right to go 90 mph if I want to? What if I’m late, I should be able to go as fast as I need to in order to get to a meeting on time, right? Wrong! My going 90 mph on Back Beach Road doesn’t affect only me, it affects others. I’m endangering others by traveling faster than others on the same road.
When you swim in double red flag conditions, or even red flag conditions, you, at that point, are not affecting only yourself, you are affecting those that will have to rescue you when you fall victim to a current stronger than you. “I’m a strong swimmer, I can handle swimming in conditions that most other people can’t.” Who cares? I’m a strong swimmer too, but what if the ocean is just a little stronger? Then someone else is going to have to risk their life to rescue me. It’s not worth it.
“Well, I’m not asking anyone to rescue me, I’m not asking anyone to endager themselves for me,” you may say. When it comes to the point of you needing rescuing, a capable rescuer in their right mind isn’t going to just let you drown.
With the labor day holiday coming up, it was stressed how important it was to get this passed, especially in light of the current tropical storm situation that may be bearing down on us in the next couple of days.
The ordinance was specific to note that surfers with a surf board leashed to their ankle were exempt from any fines or warnings as they have often played an integral role in rescues and are often the strongest swimmers in the water. Fines may range from $10 to $500 and in the most extreme and belligerent of circumstances, officers may have the authority to arrest.
Click here to download the ordinance.