Going to the beach should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately there are some trips that have a tragic ending instead. Sometimes you can do everything right and something unexpected can require an emergency response. If you know about beach safety and what beach flags mean, then you can be as prepared as possible for the conditions you might face.
The best beach safety tip is this: only swim at beaches which are under lifeguard supervision. Then make sure to stay within the designated swimming areas. This will allow you to avoid dangerous rip currents while being supervised by someone who is trained to save lives.
What Do the Beach Warning Flags Mean?
Because of the distances that may be between two nautical points, a system of flag communication was developed to let people know what the conditions of a beach are at any given time. There are 5 basic flag options that are used for beaches in the United States.
Green Flag: This means there are low hazardous conditions. Winds are usually calm. Still exercise caution when entering the water.
Yellow Flag: This indicates a beach is experiencing moderate levels of surf or currents. Only those experienced with those conditions should venture out into the water, but staying on the beach itself is generally considered safe while exercising caution.
Red Flag: This flag indicates high surf and strong currents are present at the beach. Entering the water is considered to be extremely dangerous.
Purple Flag: If you see this flag waving, it means that dangerous marine life has been spotted at the beach or in the waters just off the beach. For some locations, it may also indicate a need to stay off the beach because of the presence of marine life, such as during a turtle hatching season.
Double Red Flag: If you see a double red flag flying, this means conditions at the beach are too dangerous for anyone to be there. In many states, it is against the law to enter a beach that has a double red flag warning being flown.
Some beaches may offer additional flag warnings and have different beach entry laws that must be followed when those flags are being flown. Different colors of flags may also be used instead of those listed above. If you plan to visit the beach and you are unfamiliar with the beach safety warnings in that area, review a local safety brochure to see which beach warning flags are being used.
Simple Steps to Maintain Beach Safety
A visit to the beach is generally a safe experience. You can play games on the sand, stick your toes in the water, and have a great time. To make sure everyone is having fun, some basic rules of beach safety can help to make sure that each person can come home at the end of the day. Here are some simple steps to follow.
- Wear safety equipment. If young children or inexperienced swimmers are near water, the Red Cross advises that all individuals in these two categories wear floatation devices that are approved by the US Coast Guard or a similar agency.
- Never dive headfirst into the water. Shallow water can occur even at the end of a long pier unexpectedly. To protect your neck and long-term health, check of obstructions and verify depth before entering the water and always dive in feet first if you are uncertain.
- Shallow waters can still produce big waves. Small children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to wave activities that happen at the beach. It only takes one rogue wave that’s bigger than the rest to sweep someone off their feet or cause a lack of footing that may cause an injury.
- Leave nature alone. Water plants can sometimes be dangerous. Marine life can also be dangerous and some can even be life threatening. Leave any animals found at the beach alone and avoid plants whenever possible.
(Of course if you’re at a beach clamming, fishing, or another similar activity, make sure you are licensed if necessary and are taking safety precautions relevant to the activity itself.)
- Be aware of rip currents. People die in the US every year because of rip currents. If you get caught in one, even if you’re by a pier or jetty, then stay calm. Don’t try to fight the current. Instead the best idea is to swim parallel to the shore until you feel that you are out of the current. Then you can turn toward the shore. Wave your arms and call for help if you feel like you cannot make it out of the current.
If you see anyone struggling in a current or asking for help, then dial 911 or your nation’s emergency assistance number. Then try to throw a floatation device out to the individual if possible. Anything that floats can help them keep their head above the water line.
To avoid being caught in a rip current, try to stay at least 100 feet from obstacles that are in the water. Permanent currents tend to exist around piers, jetties, and shoreline rock structures. Always check on local conditions before entering the water as well, including beach warning flags, notices about water conditions, and any signs that may be posted at the beach.
You Can Stay Safe At the Beach and Have Fun
Drowning is the third-leading cause of accidental death in the US. It is even more common for people between the ages of 5-44. The best way to be safe is to learn how to swim. That way you can potentially rescue yourself should something unexpected happen. By obeying posted signs and flags, you can also avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Even if all you plan to do is sit on the beach, you can still suffer a severe injury with excessive sun exposure. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water, while limiting caffeine and alcohol, for best results.
You can thrive at the beach if you know how to survive. By knowing about beach safety and beach flags, that can happen every single time.