Beach Warning Flags
Learning how to read beach warning flags means learning how to stay safe when in the water. Though the salt, sand, and sun, might seem fun, there are underlying, hazardous conditions that all surfers and beachgoers must look out for.
From large waves to strong currents to sharks to lightning, the beach presents more hazards than one might think. Fortunately, we have a beach warning flag system, which can provide us with information on any hazardous conditions.
While there are a variety of national and regional flags and warning signs, many of them are universal.
Let’s hop in and look at some of the most commonly used beach warning flags.
Ten Common Beach Warning Flags
Green Flag - Low Hazard
While the ocean can be unpredictable on any given day, this beach warning flag shows us that hazardous conditions are lower than normal. You can think of a green flag as an “all clear” flag, indicating to beachgoers that it is safe to enter the water.
Yellow Flag - Medium Hazard
A yellow flag means that the surf conditions are moderate and rip currents are present. A yellow flag is also a sign that beachgoers should exercise caution when in the water and weak swimmers should stay out of the water completely. Weak swimmers include children.
If you do see a yellow flag at the beach, note that the conditions are not life-threatening by any means, though you should swim by a lifeguard. Also note that some beaches have permanent yellow flags due to sudden drop-offs, rocks, or a high population of baitfish that can attract larger predators.
Red Flag - High Hazard
A red flag means that the surf conditionas are strong and heavy rip currents are present. This beach warning flag is a sign that beachgoers should not enter the water, though if they choose to do so, it is important that they exercise extreme caution.
Red Over Red Flag - Closed
Red flags indicate very dangerous conditions, such as high surf, strong rip currents, sharks and more. You cannot enter the water when red flags are being flown.
Red And Yellow Flag - Lifeguard Protected
Red over yellow flags indicate that an area is under lifeguard protection. You will either see these flags paired up or spaced apart to show a specific beach zone. These swimming and body surfing areas are patrolled by lifeguards.
Purple Flag - Marine Life Present
A purple flag means that marine animals present in the water. A purple flag may be hoisted for stingrays, jellyfish, sea snakes, or other types of marine animals, though this flag is not intended for sharks. The presence of sharks is indicated with a red or red over red flag.
Blue Beach Flag - Marine Life Present
The blue warning flag is often used to warn against dangerous marine life as well.
Quartered Beach Flag - Watercraft Zone
Quartered beach flags are either paired or space apart. They designate watercraft zones where people may use surfboards, paddleboards, boogie boards, or other non-powered watercraft.
Orange Windsock Flag - Offshore Winds
The orange windsock flag is the most unique of all, as it is shaped like a cone. It is used to show the direction of offshore winds. When in use, inflatable objects are unsafe in the water.
Black Ball Flag - Watercraft Prohibited Zone
Blackball flags are typically found in areas where surfing is popular. The blackball flag indicates zones where surfboards and other non-powered watercraft are strictly prohibited.
Staying Safe In The Water With With Beach Flags
Beyond your typical warning flags, you may see signs at various beaches that prohibit beach access entirely, prohibit swimming specifically, caution against slippery rocks or coral, or warn against swimming in general, as there is no lifeguard present.
All of the beach warning flags listed above were created through the United States Lifesaving Association in collaboration with the International Lifesaving Federation. The majority of coastal communities around the world have adopted this beach warning flag system, which means that no matter where you travel to, you will likely find these same warning flag types.
Always make sure to keep a close eye out for warning signs and flags at the beach when you get to the shoreline to help protect you and your family from potential, hazardous conditions.
See you at the beach!