The Complete Guide to Beach Flags for Surfers and Beachgoers
Updated: Feb 16
You've probably seen a beach flag before — but do you know what it means?
Beach flags were created with the intention of keeping you and the people around you safe while you are out in the water. Lifeguards put up different flags each day to update the public on the water conditions of the day. The difference between having a good beach experience in or out of the water and a dangerous experience is knowledge of what each beach flag means.
In this article, we'll break down each of the beach flags that you need to understand for your safety.
9 Beach Flags To Understand and Follow
A yellow beach flag is similar to a yellow light — you can proceed, but only with caution.
When a yellow flag is up, it means that the hazardous conditions are relatively mild.
This could mean that the surf is bigger than average, or that there is a semi-strong current present.
Inexperienced or weak swimmers/ surfers are recommended to refrain from the water during this time, and others proceed with intensified caution.
A red beach flag means that conditions are at a high hazard.
Whether the surf is high or there are strong rip currents, all surfers/ swimmers are recommended to stay on shore during the time that this flag is up.
However, some experienced surfers will still gamble with these conditions, but proceed only with extreme caution.
Red over Red Flag
A red over red beach flag means that the water in that given area is completely closed.
This means that even if you are extremely experienced, the water is unsafe.
We see these flags come out when extraordinarily large swells and extreme rip currents come into town. These types of conditions are dangerous for all individuals.
A purple flag indicates that dangerous marine life that can cause minor injuries are present.
This includes the presence of both jellyfish and stingrays, but not sharks.
In the case of a shark sighting, a lifeguard will display the red or red over red flag to represent a more hazardous situation.
Red over Yellow Flag
A pair of red over yellow flags are used to indicate a specific area that is being supervised by certified lifeguards.
Within these flags, only surfing and bodyboarding is allowed.
A zone that is designated by these two flags would be a great place for less confident swimmers to safely test out the water.
Quartered beach flags are spaced out just like the red over yellow flags, but instead they indicate an area for strictly surfers or other non-electric boards such as bodyboards or stand-up paddle boards.
It is also important to note that within this area, no swimmers are permitted in the water.
This is to ensure that no swimmers are potentially run over by any of the surfers within this area.
Black Ball Flag
The Black Ball beach flag indicates that no type of boards are allowed out in the water — only swimmers and bodysurfers.
It was created to protect swimmers during the day from surfers who may lose control and shoot out their board, resulting in a painful or deadly injury.
This beach flag is implemented by most Southern Californian beaches during summer from 10am - 5pm.
Sun Warning Flag
When the sun warning beach flag is up, this means that there is a high UV level present.
You are at a high risk of a sunburn that can have negative impacts later on in life.
If this flag is present, find some shade to hang out under and ensure you are wearing sunscreen.
Orange Windsock Flag
If the orange windsock beach flag is presented, it means that there are strong offshore winds present.
When this flag is up, inflatables are no longer permitted to be out in the water, in the case that they could catch the wind and flip over or fly away.
The Bottom Line: Following Beach Flags
Beach Flags were created with the intention of keeping you and the people around you safe while you are out in the water.
These helpful tools help you know whether or not it is safe for you to go out, so that you can avoid danger — and keep doing what you enjoy.
So, next time you walk out to the beach, take a look at the lifeguard tower. It can be the difference between an enjoyable beach or surf experience, and a dangerous one.