You must have noticed flag warnings on the beach. So, what do the flags on the beach mean?
Well, beach flags have different meanings depending on their colors. Some like red and black colors means that the waters are unsafe, while green flags indicate calm waters.
In addition to red, black, and green flags, we’ve beach flags in blue, purple, checkered, orange, yellow, and many others. We’ll look at all of the beach flags in this blog post.
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Why Are Beach Flags Important?
According to the CDC, a majority of unintentional human drowning occurs in natural waters, and that includes the ocean. Disappointedly, a good number of these cases are related to beachgoers not observing warning signs like beach flags.
So, beach warning flags are essential to keep you safe on the coast. You get to know when it is safe to swim or surf and when you should stay away.
For example, the presence of green flags means the waters are safe for you to swim. However, if what you see are purple flags, then there might be dangerous sea creatures like sharks. As a result, you should keep off the waters.
Beach flags are like road warnings. They come in bold and bright colors for everyone who visits the beach to notice them. More often than not, they are the only clear indicators of a safe or unsafe beach.
So, you should be able to interpret beach flag meanings, and I’m going to help you.
What Do The Flags On The Beach Mean? Common Beach Flags and Their Meanings
Here are the commonest beach flags and what they symbolize:
1. Yellow Beach Flags
Yellow flags are probably the commonest beach flags on most coasts. These flags mean that you should proceed with caution as there are medium hazards.
So, though you can swim, the waters are not absolutely safe. It could be that:
- There are moderate currents
- The water is dirty
- Strong waves could be experienced
- The weather is generally bad
If you have your kids with you on the beach and there are yellow flags, then you should supervise them.
Additionally, encourage them to put on life vests just as a precautionary motion.
Note that some yellow flags feature black balls at the center. Such flags indicate a *no watercraft* area. So, you should not surf there using any water vessel.
2. Red Beach Flags
Traditionally, the red color is associated with danger. So, you should expect the same indication with a red flag.
So, what does a red flag mean at the beach?
According to the United States Life Saving Association (USLA), a red flag shows a high hazard.
So, the presence of the flags on the coast show that no swimming should take place because the waters are unsafe.
It could be because of any of the following:
- Strong currents
- Massive waves
- A rough sea
- Severe weather
- Extremely-polluted waters
Unless you are a good swimmer, you shouldn’t go into the waters when you notice red beach flags. In a nutshell, what these flags indicate is that you get to “swim at your own risk.”
Some red flags may have a “no swimming” sign, which means that the waters are not open to the public.
There are also those without the “no swimming” sign, which means a high hazard.
And if you find two red flags, then it indicates that swimming (whether you are experienced or not) is prohibited.
Sometimes it may be one red flag with a white line instead of two red flags. Note that it means the same as two red flags.
3. Green Beach Flags
Green beach flags are just the direct opposite of red beach flags. So, while red flags indicate a high hazard, green flags show:
- Calm waters
- Unpolluted water
- No serious human threat
Consequently, you can swim or surf on the ocean when there are green flags. However, confirm first that there are no other flags before you can wear your swimsuit.
It’s generally essential to exercise caution and supervise your kids when swimming on a beach with green flags.
The presence of green flags will, for sure, not prevent you from drowning. It’s the care that you take that will do.
Generally, beaches with green flags are best for families as it means the kids can swim safely under adult supervision.
So, the next time you are not sure about “what do the flags on the beach mean” look for beach flags. Their presence indicates that the waters are safe for your family.
4. Black Beach Flags
Black flags are rare, that’s for sure. But, what does a black flag mean at the beach?
Generally, these flags indicate a no go zone! So, it’s not just about being forbidden to swim or surf in the waters as it is the case of red flags. No, you are entirely prohibited from going there.
So, the flags show that the ocean is extremely dangerous. Even if you are an experienced swimmer, you shouldn’t attempt to go into the waters.
An orange flag, sometimes referred to as an orange windsock, is an indicator of a strong wind. That means you should avoid using floats, especially inflatables, as they can be blown away.
The yellow windsock also shows the direction at which offshore winds are flowing.
6. Purple Beach Flags
Purple flags mean that there are dangerous sea creatures such as sharks, algae, and jellyfish in the waters. As a result, you shouldn’t try getting into the ocean to swim.
As a matter of fact, you should stay away from such a beach.
While some states use purple ocean flags to indicate dangerous sea life, others use blue flags. So, both flags serve the same purpose.
Also Read: Is It Safe To Swim At Night In The Ocean?
7. Other Beach Flag Colors and Their True Meanings
In addition to the above, we also have:
a) Red-Over-Red Beach Flags
The USLA describes a red flag over another red flag as a very high hazard. That means that the beach is not open to the public.
The flags are reserved for the most hazardous surfing conditions. As a result, I strongly advise against getting into the waters.
b) Red-Over-Yellow Beach Flags
Unlike red-over-red beach flags, red-over-yellow beach flags don’t indicate an inherent hazard. On the contrary, they show a lifeguard-supervised area, thus safe for swimmers.
So, if you want to swim along the beach, look for red-over-yellow lifeguard flags. Such beaches are likely to be overcrowded but are safer.
c) Red And White Quartered Flags
The presence of red and white quartered flags on the beach signifies an emergency evacuation. That can be because of a hurricane, shark attacks, or any other serious threat to human life.
So, don’t go to the beach when you see such flags unless you are willing to help with the evacuation.
d) Black And White Checkered Beach Flags
These flags show that a particular area is only for surfing. So, swimming is prohibited.
What’s more, the flags indicate that other non-motorized watercrafts other than surfboards are allowed.
e) Black And White Quartered Beach Flags
Black and white quartered flags show that a given area is reserved for watercraft. So, they are suited to surfers and not swimmers.
If you are a swimmer, then you should look for somewhere safe to swim. That can be a place with green flags or red-over-yellow flags.
But if you are an experienced surfer, then it is safe to explore the waters when there are black and white quartered flags.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which Beach Flags Show It Is Safe To Swim?
Red-over-yellow flags are an indicator of a lifeguard-protected area. So, that means you can swim safely under the watchful eyes of lifeguards.
You can also swim where there are green flags as they show that the waters are calm and unpolluted. You’ll, however, need to supervise your kids.
Additionally, you can swim where there are yellow flags if you are experienced. You, however, have to be extra cautious as the waters are not entirely safe.
2. How Can I Know About The Presence Of Sharks?
Either a blue or purple beach flag signified the presence of dangerous marine creatures like sharks. So, you would be swimming at such coasts at your own risk because the waters are hazardous.
3. What Does A Blue Ocean Flag Signify?
Blue flags are used in place of purple flags in some areas to indicate the presence of marine pests. That includes sharks, jellyfish, and any other dangerous sea creatures.
So, it would be best if you stayed away from such beaches. If you decide to swim, then you’ll be doing it at your own risk. Furthermore, no lifeguard will recommend you to explore such waters.
4. How About White Flags?
A white flag is traditionally a symbol of peace or surrendering. So, it shows that the one approaching is unarmed and is either surrendering or intending to negotiate.
In as far as swimming or surfing is concerned, white flags are not quite common. So, they are not crucial in as far as our topic “what do the flags on the beach mean” is concerned.
5. Which Ocean Flags Signify Dangerous Waters?
Three types of beach flags indicate danger for swimmers. The first category involves purple or blue beach flags, which show the possible existence of sharks or any other dangerous marine pests.
We also have red beach flags that indicate a high hazard beach. Though you can swim at your own risk, the waters are unsafe.
Lastly, we have black beach flags. They indicate that the waters are very unsafe and so you shouldn’t just avoid swimming but also shouldn’t go near the sea.
6. Which Beach Flag Allow You To Swim In Between?
That would be red-over-yellow beach flags. Such flags indicate a lifeguard-protected area, thus safe for swimmers.
So, even if you are inexperienced, you’ll be under the watchful eyes of qualified people.
General Beach Safety Tips
You now know what the various ocean flags represent. So, it should be easy to interpret them for your safety.
The next thing is to master some extra beach safety tips.
Here are the ones I recommend:
- The F-L-A-G Rule
Here’s what to know about the F-L-A-G-S Rule:
- F – Find an area with red-over-yellow beach flags to swim
- L – Look out for safety signs on the beach
- A – Ask advice from lifeguards before attempting anything on the beach
- G – Get someone to swim with you
- S – Stick out your hand and shout for help when you start drowning
- Be Wary Of Rip Currents
It’s generally challenging to spot rip currents. For that reason, part of the preparation is to know what to do in case you get caught.
If you are a good swimmer, consider swimming parallel to the shore and not directly inwards. But if you are not skilled, raise your hands above the waters and shout for help.
- Beware Of Other Dangers
It’s not just the rip currents that can be life-threatening. Also, be wary of strong winds and thunder. So, it would be best if you didn’t go swimming when such dangers are prevalent.
Additionally, watch out for the dark. It’s generally unsafe to swim or surf at night.
- Pack Your First Aid Kit
Ensure you bring your first aid box to the beach. It shall help you handle emergencies like cuts, stings, bites, and knocks. Fortunately, you can buy first aid kits locally and even online.
- Maintain Sobriety
Don’t go into the waters while drunk. Alcohol impairs your judgment and reduces your coordination. As a result, you are more likely to drown.
- Swim At A Lifeguard-Protected Area
I’m talking about staying within the red-over-yellow beach flag area. It’s safe to swim there because of the presence of lifeguards.
Are you still wondering, “what do the flags on the beach mean?” I guess not, especially not after reading my post.
So, ensure you interpret the flags well the next time you see them on the beach. Your safety may be on the line.