Understanding the Colored Flags for Your Next Trip to the Beach

Posted: June 5, 2021 2:12 am

With the Memorial Day weekend in the rearview mirror, many Americans are already looking ahead to the next beach vacation. Before you head out to soak up the sand and the surf, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the flag warning system.

About the Flag Warning System: The United States Lifesaving Association and the International Lifesaving Federation have partnered together to develop an official flag warning system. This system is designed to inform swimmers of current conditions along the shores of the beach and in the ocean water.

While some localized beaches may employ their own warning systems, the general rule is that a green flag signals the all clear, yellow translates to caution, and red means stop. Here is what you need to know about this standardized warning system.

Green Flag: Green means go. Although you always need to be on alert when spending time at the ocean, the presence of a green flag means that you will enjoy ideal swimming conditions. This means that the water conditions are calm and there is a low risk of hazards coming into play. However, a green flag does not mean that you can throw all caution to the wind. It is always important to be aware of changing conditions.

Yellow Flag: A yellow flag indicates that waves may be larger than usual or that there have been reports of strong rip currents. If you see a yellow flag when you arrive at the beach, you need to take the proper precautions before entering the water. This is particularly important if you are not a strong swimmer or if you are with children. A lifeguard should be able to answer any questions about why the yellow flag is being used and what precautions you should take to lower your risk of encountering a potentially dangerous situation.

Red Flag: You should not venture into the water if you see a red flag on the shoreline. This color of flag indicates an immediate danger. It could mean that the area is experiencing strong surf or currents. On some beaches, a red flag may also indicate the presence of dangerous sharks. A red flag means that all swimmers are strongly discouraged from getting into the water.

Double Red Flag: A double red flag is used when the beach is officially closed to the public. If you arrive at the beach and see two red flags, you should turn away immediately. Some municipalities may even arrest trespassers who ignore the double red flag warning.


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Purple Flag: Unlike a red flag that is used to signal shark sightings, a purple flag indicates the presence of other types of marine life. Sealife that falls into the category necessitating a purple flag warning includes stingrays, jellyfish, and other types of fish that may be dangerous to humans. You are swimming at your own risk if you venture into the water with a purple flag.

Orange Windsock Flag: An orange flag shaped like a windsock is used to convey that offshore winds are present in the area. This means that inflatables should not be used. The cone shape may indicate what direction the offshore winds are coming from.

Black and White Quartered Flag: A black and white quartered flag means that the area is intended for use for watercraft rather than swimming. This area is also designed for surfers.

Red Over Yellow Flag: A red and yellow flag used together is used to designate swimming areas that are under the supervision of lifeguards. Taken together, the flags help swimmers to find areas that are protected by lifeguards so that they can get into the water with peace of mind.

Before you begin to enjoy your day at the beach, it is important that you take the time to check out the current flag designations. This will help to guide your decisions throughout the day so that you enjoy a safe time at the coast.