Beach Safety & Flags

Updated April 17, 2017

Not all municipalities use the same flag system, but many are adapted from or imitate the flag standards for the International Lifesaving Federation (ILF). Beach flags are used to convey a level of risk, caution, or danger to beach swimmers through a series of colours and symbols.


Yellow flags mean moderately rough surf conditions, meaning it could be dangerous for inexperienced swimmers. If entering the water, proceed with caution.


Red flags mean rough and dangerous conditions and recommend that all swimmers refrain from entering. Those who do enter should take extreme caution and be experienced swimmers.

Double Red

A double red flag means the water is too dangerous to enter. All persons are prohibited to enter or face punishment by law.


The purple flag is used to indicate an irregular accumulation of sea life that could be hazardous such as jellyfish, stingrays, or sea snakes. Double red flags would be used in cases of extreme caution due to sea life, such as with sharks or other large predatory sea life.

Red & Yellow

A flag that is half red and half yellow indicates that the area is protected by lifeguards and is suitable for swimming or body surfing. These flags are spaced apart in pairs to indicate the protected zone.

Black & White

A black and white flag, split into four quartered squares of alternating colour, indicates a designated area for surfboards, kayaks, or other non-powered craft to operate. Similar to red and yellow halved flags, they are placed in pairs to indicate the proper zone of activity.

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About the Author

Tommy Doc is a 2007 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and an aspiring Internet entrepreneur. He was the sports editor for "The Pennsylvania Independent" while attaining his bachelor's degree in communications and environmental science. Doc is from Atlantic City, N.J. but has lived in Philadelphia, San Diego, New York and currently resides in Austin, Texas.