You’re all packed for a day at the beach. You’ve got sunscreen, a beach chair and a good book, and you’re looking forward to a day in the sun and surf. When you arrive at the beach, though, it’s lined with red flags. The United States Lifesaving Association, in conjunction with the International Lifesaving Federation, has developed a flag warning system that has been adopted by coastal communities worldwide to notify beachgoers of potential water hazards. Understanding and heeding these colored flags keeps you safe in the water and helps you enjoy your trip to the beach.
The most serious of all beach warning flags, red flags warn swimmers of serious hazards in the water. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents, or both. Though you can still swim if there is a red flag, you should use extreme caution and go in the water only if you’re a strong swimmer.
You may also see the Red Flag feature symbol of a swimmer with a line through it, indicating that the swimmer is prohibited.
When ocean conditions are rough, but not life-threatening, you might see an low flag on the beach. A yellow flag indicates potentially high surf or dangerous currents and undertows, and means that swimmers should exercise extreme caution. If there is a yellow flag, swim only near lifeguards and heed all lifeguard warnings. If you’re swimming with children, or you aren’t a strong swimmer yourself, wear a life jacket when swimming on yellow-flag days. Some beaches have a permanent yellow flag because of rocks, a sudden drop-off or a high population of bait fish that attracts predators.
The ocean is always unpredictable, and even on clear and calm days, hazards still exist. Still, there are days when the threat of danger is lower than others. A green flag on the beach is an all-clear sign, indicating that it’s safe to swim. Even when the flag is green, though, exercise caution in the ocean, listen to lifeguard warnings and keep a close eye on the children.
Some beaches use flags that are particular to that beach or related to common activities there. For example, in areas where surfing is common, you may see a yellow flag with a black dot in the center. This flag marks an area where surfing is prohibited, giving swimmers an area where they can swim without encountering surfers. If you see a flag at the beach and do not know what it means, ask a lifeguard for an explanation or look for an indicator key near the beach entrance or in a public area.
See you at the beach!!