VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - If you head to the beach this Memorial Day Weekend, chances are you won’t see red “Water is Dangerous” flags keeping you out of the ocean.
However, officials in Virginia Beach say dangerous water conditions could spring up at any moment.
“We never know, and that’s the thing,” said Tom Gill, chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. “It’s not only the forecast for the day, but it’s about the forecast for the next 5 minutes.”
Gill told News 3 his lifeguards are always watching for changes in the water.
The red flags are a warning sign of dangerous conditions, usually of rip currents in the water.
“Last summer we pulled out 776 victims from the water in a single summer, which is a high number for us,” Gill told News 3.
Lifeguards are hoping to bring those numbers down this year. The red flags are a preventative measure, but those all beachgoers who talked to News 3 say they pay attention to them.
Ryan O’Grady told News 3 his friends “occasionally” will get out of the water if the flags go up. (O’Grady mentioned however that he personally, take the flags seriously.)
Mike Zabin, a Connecticut resident who talked to News 3, had never seen the flags before, and said he “probably would not” get out of the water if they went up.
If the red flags go up at the beach, officials say you should talk to a lifeguard, because they can tell you how dangerous the water conditions actually are.
If there are no flags in sight, you can enter the water safely at your own risk.
According to Gill, Virginia Beach lifeguards have been on patrol for the past few weeks, but they will almost quadruple those numbers beginning Memorial Day Weekend.
Gill notes his staff greatly appreciates beach-goers who respect the flag.
“I would not swim with that [up],” said Virginia Beach resident Aaron Rouse. “Rip currents can take you far out to sea, so I just wouldn’t go deep enough to where I couldn’t see my toes.”
Whether the flags are up or down, officials say, when in doubt, ask a lifeguard. It does not hurt to swim near one either.