Published: Mar 25, 2013 4:19 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE – An elevated risk of rip currents is expected along the Florida Panhandle and Gulf Coast through Wednesday. Rip currents are expected from Walton County to Collier County.

FDEM Deputy State Meteorologist Michelle Palmer says, “Floridians can check their local rip current outlook at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.”

The State Emergency Response Team says beachgoers should always remain alert while visiting Florida’s beaches, especially when red flags are flying. A rip current is a narrow, powerful current of water that runs perpendicular to the beach, out into the ocean.

When at the beach:

-Before you leave for the beach, check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions. Many offices issue a Surf Zone Forecast.

-Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify hazards.

-Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags. Different beaches may use different colors but a commonly used series include Double Red: Beach is closed to the public, Single Red: high hazard, e.g., strong surf or currents, Yellow: medium hazard, Green: Calm conditions although caution is still necessary, Purple: Flown with either Red or Yellow: Dangerous marine life.

Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.

-Pay especially close attention to children and persons who are elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

-Be cautious. Always assume rip currents are present even if you don’t see them.

If caught in a rip current:

-DON’T PANIC. Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

-NEVER swim against the rip.

-Stay afloat and signal for help.

-Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline.

-When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.

-If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.

-Draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim too:

-Get help from a lifeguard or, if one is unavailable, have someone call 911.

-Throw the rip current victim something that floats--a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.

-Yell instructions on how to escape.