GULF SHORES, Ala. (WALA) -- High winds, rough waters, and overcast skies do not sound like an ideal beach day.
The red flag soaring in Gulf Shores is a warning to say out of the water.
"I will not. I have heard of so many deaths when it's red flag day that I would not get out in it," said Lisa Sandlin.
But others don't give it a second thought.
"I don't know what a red flag is, so yes, I'd probably get in the water," said Darlene Loveless
Loveless is visiting from the Midwest and like many other visitors, she doesn't know what the colored flags mean on the coast.
That's one problem Beach Safety Officer Melvin Shepard wants to fix.
"This system could be improved by this information getting out nationally. But if more people that visited the beaches just throughout the country knew what the flag systems meant, it would help," said Shepard.
A red flag means you are highly encouraged to stay out of the water because of dangerous conditions that could easily sweep you off your feet.
A double red flag means waters are closed and it's illegal to step in. You could face a fine of $500 or jail time. Shepard says no one has been fined or arrested in the past four years.
"The officers have to actually witness the act take place, if not, that means the lifeguards have to come up here to the magistrate's office, and file an issue, and we don't have time to do that on double red flag days," he said.
Officers still have the authority to tell you to get out, even without a fine. Shepard said even if you spent a lot of money on your vacation, it's more important to be safe than to lose a life.
"The worst thing you could do is come down here, get in the water on a double red flag day, and lose a family member," he said.
Shepard also reminds people that swimming in the Gulf is not the same as a lake or pool. Know your swimming ability and if you don't trust yourself, always stay out of the water.