Beach Flags and Signs

Recognizing the meanings behind these flag colors can help save your life in unfavorable swimming conditions.

What The Beach Warning Flags Mean?

On your next trip to the beach, keep in mind that conditions might not be as safe as they may appear. Lifeguards will often fly flags of different colors to notify beachgoers of any present dangers.

We have pretty well standardized flags here in the U.S. Although additional colors are sometimes incorporated into the system for different beaches in various parts of the country, the system generally follows that of traffic lights, where green means go, yellow means caution and red means stop.

Flags will get your attention. They’re generally better at grabbing people’s attention than signs. Unfortunately, there are many people that aren’t very competent when swimming at the beach.

They may know how to swim, but the only experience many of them have may be in swimming pools, ponds and lakes, and you have a whole set of hidden hazards at the beach.


There are eight types of beach safety flags:

  • Green Flag – Low Hazard
    Green flags represents generally calm surf and currents. Swim with usual caution.

    When you spot a green flag along the beach, swimming or recreational conditions are considered ideal. The green flag signifies low hazards and calm conditions, Beach goers can enjoy the water and swimming while remaining alert to changing conditions and currents.
  • Yellow flag  – Medium Hazard
    Take caution when approaching the water if a yellow flag is flying as it could mean that waves are higher than usual. The waves may be a little larger or rip currents may be present, but if you have any concerns, talk to a lifeguard to see what the yellow flag is signaling.Those who are not strong swimmers should take extra care on the beach if there’s a yellow flag present. However, even if you are a good swimmer, you do need to know something about rip currents, because the response that nature tells us is to swim back to shore. That would be against the rip current, and even great swimmers can drown in a case like that.
  • RED FLAG – High Hazard
    If a lifeguard sends a red flag into the air, it means that hazardous conditions, including strong surf or currents, are present. Beach goers are advised to stay out of the water, experts say.I think we all understand that red means danger. That’s telling you that things are bad out there. Shore-break is a particularly dangerous, but uncommon, beach hazard that happens when the ocean’s waves break directly on the shore. The wave picks you up and drive you headfirst into the beach, which could break your neck.
  • Double red flag – Water is closed to public use
    The double red flag means the water is completely closed to the public. Often, this means very dangerous ocean conditions, such as strong rip currents, and beach goers should stay out of the water when these flags are present.Beach goers can even be arrested when entering the beach if a double red flag is flying. Experts advise swimmers always to heed beach warning flags to avoid hazardous conditions.
  • Purple Flag – Marine pests present
    Jellyfish, stingrays, sea snakes or other marine life are present in the water, and can cause minor injuries. This flag is not intended to indicate the presence of sharks. In this latter case the red flag or double red flag may be hoisted.This flag indicates that there may be marine wildlife present, such as jellyfish, stingrays and other dangerous fish. Beach goers should be alert and cautious of these animals.
  • Red Over Yellow Flag – Recommended swimming area with lifeguard supervision
    The area is protected by lifeguards. These flags may be used in pairs spaced apart to indicate a designated area or zone along a beach or waterfront that is most closely supervised or patrolled by qualified lifeguards, and where swimming and/or body surfing is permitted. These flags may be used singly to indicate that swimming is permitted in front of the area where the flag is flown and that the area is under the supervision of a qualified person.
  • Quartered Flag – Watercraft area
    These flags may be used in pairs spaced apart to indicate a designated area or zone along a beach or waterfront that is used by those with surfboards and other non-powered watercraft.
  • Black Ball Flag – Watercraft use prohibited
    Surfboards and other non-powered watercraft are prohibited.

Beach warning flags are often visible as swimmers approach a beach, which immediately makes them aware of ocean conditions so they can decide whether or not to go in the water. Without warning flags, beach goers might not be aware of dangerous currents, surf, wildlife or other risky conditions. Absence of Beach Flags Does Not Assure Safe Waters.

You can also find other beach warning signals with different messages for specific beaches and coastal areas: