Beach flags Meaning & Tips

Water is a part of beach life. Some people enjoy the beach as an escape from their everyday routine, while others like to take in the sun and surf.

Regardless of what you’re looking for on your beach vacation, there are some things that every beachgoer should know before they arrive at their destination.

Knowing how to read beach flags can help keep you safe and informed about potential dangers: red flags warn swimmers about dangerous currents or riptides; yellow flags indicate caution; green flags mean it’s a lifeguarded beach; blue indicates swimming conditions are good; black means no swimming allowed because of pollution or other reasons. And if you want to be extra careful, it never hurts to ask someone who works at the beach for advice or information.

Let’s get started with the many sorts of flags, and then go through some additional beach safety precautions and symbols. 

beach warning flag types

Yellow Flag

Yellow beach safety flags are typically displayed when the beach conditions may be hazardous. This is either due to riptides or strong rip currents, dangerous undercurrents, bad tides or large waves.

Extreme caution should be taken in such cases because it can become very difficult to get back to shore safely if you’re caught in one of these situations. Even an experienced swimmer could face trouble with beach safety yellow flag conditions.

Beach safety yellow flags might also indicate that parts of the beach have not been cleared of mines and other explosives, although this isn’t always the case (so don’t go thinking every beach with a yellow flag is like this!) It’s usually wise to avoid beaches with beach safety yellow flags, if possible.

Red Flag

Red beach safety flags may be displayed by lifeguards when there is a high hazard for beachgoers, such as strong rip currents and dangerous waves. Only conduct beach activities under the safe supervision of those trained to do so, including beach lifeguards.

Picking a beach where there are plenty of lifeguards on duty will ensure that you have a trustworthy source watching out for your best interest. Another thing to consider is how high the waves are – this can help you determine what sorts of beach activities you should avoid during red flag conditions!

Red Flag Over Red Flag

A red flag over another red flag is defined by the ILSA as, “an extremely high risk. Water near to public usage is inaccessible.”

A class 5 advisory is a special type of warning flag used for extremely hazardous surf conditions. We strongly advise against entering the water in these situations.

You should never go into breaking surf with two red flags in place.

Green Flag

Green beach safety flags indicate that the beach is lifeguarded. These beaches have been deemed safe enough to guard on a regular basis, and beachgoers should be able to enjoy themselves freely without risk of danger. In most cases, beach water quality will also be tested regularly at green flag beaches, so you can swim with peace of mind!

Purple Flag

If beach water quality is poor, a purple beach flag may be displayed. Purple beach safety flags indicate that the beach does not meet EU or U.S. standards for beach water quality and that there’s a risk of health problems from swimming in polluted waters.

There are a variety of reasons why purple beach flags may be on display: pollution from nearby factories, sewage outlets, oil refineries or mines; misuse of the land near the beach which can lead to pollution from surface water runoff; incorrect use by swimmers (such as flushing away toilet paper down the loo instead of putting it in a bin); dogs on beaches – dogs love to play with their owners at the beach, but they also like to roll around in the sand, which can make beachgoers sick.

Beaches with purple beach flags are not necessarily dangerous right now – in many cases, beach authorities may be working to fix the source of the pollution at their beach once it’s been identified. However, this is usually impossible to do overnight, so in the meantime you should stick to beaches where beach water quality is monitored and meets certain standards!

Red Over Yellow Flag

A red over yellow lifeguard flag.

There’s a high risk of rip currents when beach lifeguards use this beach safety flag. Be extra cautious in such conditions, and don’t go into the water without beach lifeguard supervision (and other experienced swimmers around).

If you’re not sure whether it’s safe or not to swim in certain conditions at your beach, ask one of the locals or read up online! Many beaches post their tide updates and beach flags on their own websites, so make sure to check them out before you plan for a day at the beach. 

Black & Whtie (Quartered) Flag

black and white beach warning flag

A prohibited zone for boats has been established in the northeast corner of the map. Although swimming is permitted, it is done in a section specially designated for watercraft. If possible, avoid swimming in watercraft areas.

The following are areas that are essentially dedicated surfing spots. The scenario is ideal for surfing, so the flag indicates non-surfers to stay out of the area to protect both surfers and beachgoers.

Yellow Flag with Black Ball

The flag is meant to safeguard swimmers from potentially dangerous surfboards that may be moving at velocities following a “wipe out” from a wave. Swimmers claim the ordinance is a safety precaution, while many surfers feel it’s an attempt by Blackball to reduce the in-water population in specific regions, giving swimmers better treatment than surfers.

Orange Windsock

A windsock with a high winds warning. An orange windsock indicates strong or offshore winds. Avoid using inflatable boats or floats if there’s an orange windsock on your beach.

Red & White (Quatered) Flag

The red and white quartered flag signals an emergency evacuation. There might be a variety of reasons for it, ranging from sharks in the water to severe weather. As soon as possible, go out of the water.

Best Safety Tips for Beachgoers

It’s critical that we look at some of the various warning signals you may see on the beach now that you know what they are. Many of them are simple to interpret, but it’s always a good idea to double-check them to ensure you understand what they’re saying. Here is a nice compilation of beach warning signals.

Swim With A Buddy

Always go out with a friend if you’re going swimming in the sea, whether it’s for pleasure or to surfboard, bodyboard, or perform other water sports. It will assist guarantee your safety if you ever come into contact with a large wave or a rip current.

Swim Within Near Distance of Lifeguard


Always swim, surf, and board at lifeguard-protected beaches within the recommended zone, near the lifeguard station. Always follow the instructions of a black and white flag if surfing or boarding. If you’re swimming, stay inside the red and yellow flag region.

For Rip Currents: Swim Parallel, Not Directly Inwards

If you come into contact with a strong rip current and feel comfortable in your swimming skills, swim parallel to the beach and gently towards the shore. Attempting to swim straight in will only drag you further in.

Raise your hand and call for assistance from a lifeguard or nearby beachgoers if it is not a lifeguarded beach. Always look for lifeguard flags, warning signs, and obey instructions from local lifeguards when out on the water.

As Noaa And The Usla Say, “If In Doubt, Don’t Go Out”

If you’re ever weary, don’t go into the water alone or unsure of your swimming skills. It’s always better to stay out when you’re tired rather than putting in when things are clearer. Take it easy and try again the next day when conditions are better.

Head In If Conditions Are Bad

If the weather is deteriorating or about to storm, if the waves are growing large, if it’s windy or even if you hear thunder in the distance, it’s time to leave the water and return home until the weather has returned to normal. It’s a good idea to be cautious and plan ahead: don’t go to the beach on a known storm day.

Always Apply Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen, ideally every 90 minutes or even more often. 30 minutes before leaving, apply sunscreen. Spray sunscreens don’t last as long as lotion sunscreens. Use a wetsuit or rash guard to help protect you from harmful UV rays.

Treat Burns With Aloe

If you’ve been exposed to the sun and have some sunburns, apply aloe vera gel on them as often as necessary. It will help to cool and soothe the burns.

Waterproof Your Electronics

Take the time to waterproof any and all of your electronics. The beach is a fun place, but not always safe. Don’t risk losing or breaking your device!

Always Wear A Vest / Pfd

Wear a life vest (PFD) when you’re kayaking, surfing, standup paddling (SUP), rafting, boating, jet skiing, out on tubing or inflatable water toys – especially if you can’t swim. Do not use noodles for safety; they don’t provide enough support; only use them as a floatation aid because they help keep your head above the water.


So now that you have read this article, are you more informed about beach safety? Did you learn something new? It’s always smart to invest some time in learning for your own sake and the sake of others who may come across your path.

Anything can happen at any beach, so it’s best to be prepared! If you do find yourself struggling with a riptide or rip current, simply raise your hand high above your head and keep waving until someone sees it. Good luck!

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