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After lots of preparation or travel, your family has finally arrived at the beach only to find a yellow flag flying by the shore. Is it ok to go in the water? It’s just a caution flag right? You’ve come all this way and your not about to turn around now. So you head out onto the beach hoping for the best day, but in the back of your mind you are still wondering what does that yellow flag really mean? Every year millions of people flock to the beach, but how many of them know what all those beach flags mean? As a Florida mom who hits the beach frequently, I decided to do some research and figure out exactly what each of those different colored beach flags stand for. I’m sharing everything I discovered with all of you! Now we can all be properly prepared for our next trip to the beach.
(I live in Florida, so I am speaking for Florida beach flags, but I assume that all states are very similar in meaning. Check with your local beach officials to verify all information provided because I’m just a mom who did a little research, not an official.)
Almost all guarded beaches in Florida, have a beach safety flag flying everyday depending on the local conditions. Also, there should be a sign some where near the lifeguard stand or entrance to the beach, that has simple definitions of each colored flag. If you arrive at the beach and there is not a flag flying, don’t assume that means the water is safe for swimming. It may just mean there isn’t a flag at that particular beach.
“Low Hazard- Calm conditions, Exercise Caution”
A green flag is what you want to see the next time you visit the beach. Green flag means the water is safe for swimming and that the best conditions are present. The water will be calm, with minimal waves and weak currents. But the sign says to exercise caution? That is because the ocean water is unpredictable and swimming conditions can change very quickly. So just keep an eye on your children and pay attention to the beach flag in case the life guard feels there is a change in swimming conditions.
“Medium Hazard – Moderate Surf and/or Currents”
A yellow flag is the caution flag. The ocean is swimmable but the water will be rough. There may be big waves, or strong rip currents. You should swim close to the life guard station and stay close to children in the water. If your kids are not very good swimmers, then I recommend bringing a life jacket for them to wear if they are going to swim during a caution flag. A rip current is when the water from a wave is pulling you out towards the ocean and away from the beach. If you get caught in a strong rip current don’t try to fight it and swim towards the beach. Instead swim parallel to the shore and at an angel back towards safety. Also, sometimes you may find a yellow flag present at a beach where rocks are located near the shore. If you want some more information on rip currents, then check out the National Weather Service website.
“High Hazard – High Surf and/or Strong Currents”
So you don’t want to see a red flag on your next family trip to the beach. A red flag at the beach means that the ocean water is dangerous for swimming. Technically you can still swim, but I wouldn’t unless you are a very strong swimmer. I definitely would not let the kids go into the water. The waves are most likely very high and the rip currents very strong. If you find 2 RED FLAGS, then that means the water at the beach is actually closed. NO SWIMMING ALLOWED.
“Dangerous Marine Life”
Usually the purple flag will fly alongside one of the other colored beach flags. The purple flag means that there have been dangerous marine life spotted in the area. What type of marine life depends on your location? Some of the most popular offenders are sharks, jellyfish, sting rays, and sea lice. You can still swim if a purple flag is flying but need to use extreme caution. I personally wouldn’t go into the water with a purple flag, but thats just me. Why risk a bite or a sting?
Hopefully you will find a green flag on your next trip to the beach, but if not don’t let the water conditions ruin your good time. The kids can still have a lot of fun playing on the shore and building sand castles. Since water conditions can change rapidly at the beach, make sure you pack some toys and games to help occupy the kids in case they won’t be swimming.
I hope you have fun on your next trip to the beach, and now you know exactly what that yellow flag really means. If you need some inspiration for your next vacation, check out my post on the top 10 Beaches in Florida for Kids.
Happy Beach Day!