What Do Beach Warning Flags Mean? #BeachTravel


Here in Florida we have had quite a bit of shark warnings. One recent report was that sharks were 300 feet away from the shore! Yikes! So when a friend of mine told me she was going to the beach in the midst of all of this I thought she was crazy. She proceeded to tell me that purple flags were issued. I had no clue what she was talking about.  I figured it was time to learn especially living only 20 minutes away from the beach.  


The United States Lifesaving Association, along with the International Lifesaving Federation, has put into a play a flag warning system that has been adopted by coastal communities worldwide to notify beach goers of potential water hazards.


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Red Flags

Are the most dangerous of all beach warning flags.  Red flags warn swimmers of serious hazards in the water. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents, or both. You can still swim if there is a red  flag however,  you should use extreme caution and go in the water only if you’re a strong swimmer.  With two red flags the water is closed to swimming because the conditions are too dangerous for even the strongest swimmers. 


Yellow Flags

The conditions of the ocean are  rough, but not life-threatening.  A yellow flag indicates potential high surf, dangerous currents and undertows so swimmers should proceed with extreme caution. If there is a yellow flag, swim only near lifeguards and heed all lifeguard warnings. If you’re swimming with children, or you aren’t a strong swimmer yourself, wear a life jacket when swimming on yellow-flag days. Some beaches have a permanent yellow flag because of rocks, a sudden drop-off or a high population of bait fish that attracts predators.


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Green Flags

Sometimes on clear and calm days the ocean can be unpredictable, even so hazards can still exist.   A green flag on the beach is an all-clear sign, indicating that it’s safe to swim. Listen to lifeguard warnings and keep a close eye on children.


Purple Flags

The ocean is home to many dangerous marine life which can turn a fun day at the beach into an unpleasant day at the hospital.  When potentially dangerous ocean animals have been spotted, you’ll see a purple flag. This flag means swim with extreme caution and keep a close watch for dangerous animals. (side note — you would not catch me in the water with a purple flag!)


What about you, do you live close to the beach? Do you plan on a summer vacation involving visiting the beach? Take heed and learn what these flags mean, it could keep you and your family safe by knowing them!  


  1. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    How great that you guys have that down there. We need something like that here in MA!

  2. Such important information for summer vacation.

  3. I haven’t been to a beach in a very long rime. I happen to be a very strong swimmer but if I saw a colored flag warning of danger–I would certainly heed them! One year at Virginia Beach I was standing not even ankle deep when the undertow took me down and took my one piece bathing suit top down as well!! Those undertows can be treacherous!! I am glad to hear that there is a flag system in use at least some places.

  4. I think this is a great idea and really important to spread awareness about! I’ve never heard of anything like that in northern New England…of course, we don’t get “people-biting” sharks up here much either. But, this system could be a life-saver for certain parts of the country!

  5. Wow, you learn something new every day! We just left Florida and although we were a bit too far away from the beaches since we vacationed in Orlando, we have been to the beaches and I had no idea what the flags stood for. Thanks for the tips!

  6. I knew all of these except the purple one. Wonder what animals they include for ‘dangerous marine life’!

  7. Tonya C says:

    When we lived in CA we went to the beaches all the time. I don’t ever remember seeing these flags. Thanks for posting this.

  8. That’s awesome! Our beaches here in Toronto no one goes in simply because the water is freezing.. No matter how how it is outside! It’s awful. These are brilliant though, great way for people to know what’s up!

  9. I had no idea all of the different colors meant different things. Such great info when heading to the beach.

  10. We vacation a lot, and I didn’t know about the flags. It’s good to be informed on something like this.

  11. We will definitely need to learn these if we are headed to the beach this year! I knew the flags existed but not what they stood for!

  12. Watching the flags are important. It’s one of the first thing we learn as fl moms and kids.

  13. Wow, this is so scary! We have had quite a few shark sightings up here in MA lately.

  14. I don’t live too close to a beach but it’s not a bad distance either. I’ll have to remember to keep my eyes open for these flags!

  15. I never knew about the flags either! This is really great information!

  16. I no longer live near the beach, but where I am from, we had something like this. It’s always a great idea for safety! 🙂

  17. This is really good to know. We don’t live close to the water so I’m keeping that info for when we travel.

  18. I had no idea there were all these different color warning flags. I wonder if we have them in Southern California.

  19. I never knew what any of these flags meant. Such a useful summertime graphic!

  20. Ann Bacciaglia says:

    These are important to know. Unfortunately our beaches are often closed due to high bacteria levels in the summer. We also have a website we can check water quality on.

  21. I will have to share this great information with my friends. It is so important to know if the water is safe to swim in. There are so many nasty infections you could get.

  22. This is great information, we go to the beach a lot, specially during summer and I did not know what some of these where. For example I did not know what the purple flag meant until now. Thanks!

  23. This is super-important information. I know many don’t know these. I used to Summer in the cape every year and knew them well… LOL… Thanks for sharing

  24. I think the Flag System is a great idea and easy to understand. If these signs are observed and obeyed , they will be little or no incidents with Sharks or other marine life.

  25. Great info to have for the summer travel season. I never knew all the flag meanings

  26. I grew up around the beach so I am used to these warnings. It’s important for families to be aware of what all of these warnings mean.

  27. Thanks God there are those flags or we will be in danger. I always make sure to check out the flags

  28. It is important to know these signs. It will keep people safe and avoid any disaster

  29. I have seen a lot of these when I lived in the Outer Banks. They have saved lifes.

  30. I did not know what some of these flags meant. This is great information everyone should know.

  31. I think I would steer clear unless there was a green flag at all times. Dangerous sea life scares the heck out of me!

  32. This is great to know! Thanks for sharing!

  33. I didn’t even know they had flags. I don’t live near a beach. Good to know for when I visit.

  34. I would not be going in the water if there was a purple flag!! This is great information for any beach goer!

  35. I’m not sure if we have beach flags like this in California. Maybe we do, since I don’t surf, I have not noticed it. But, this is great info for someone who needs to go in the water..

  36. I had no idea they had this system in place! I am with you, no purple flag days for me!!

  37. Did you hear about all the riptides on the Atlantic coast this weekend? Talk about scary! I saw they had to rescue over 300 people.

  38. Great info! When we go tot eh beach we always check the flags. We went this past weekend and we had some rip currents! We were extra cautious going into the water.

  39. Oh wow, I have never even noticed flags here. However, I did read that sharks are in some of the Hampton Roads beaches.

  40. This is really good information to know. I had no idea that this was in place.

  41. These are important tips to know. Lucky for us here in Southern California, we do have lifeguards, and they put up flags. Along the Oregon coast its not like that, keeping an eye out for flags is a smart idea, thanks for the info.

  42. I don’t live near a beach. But I think I had heard of the flag coding before.

  43. This is super informative. I had no idea what the flags each stood for. I stand with you in solidarity on your “no purple flag for me” policy. Marine life is best viewed in an aquarium with a thick piece of plexiglass separating us! 🙂

  44. Good to know! Going to see of I spot these flags next time I go to the beach!

  45. I wonder if this is the color code internationally as well?? I have seen a lot of black flags worldwide and I assumed they were black for danger..

  46. I was not aware of these beach warning flags. I am glad I read this post and will look out for them in the future.

  47. This is a great post! I hope all the Florida tourists can get ahold of this info!

  48. We live not an hour for the beach and I didn’t know about these!

  49. Mass girl here too – Robin, maybe they only have the flags at State Beaches? I don’t ever see them either. I’m trying to remember if Scusset has them. Definitely have to follow these warnings and pay close attention the rules of the life guards.

  50. I hope its green the day we go!

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