What do beach flags mean? (UK)

What do beach flags mean?

Spending time on the beach is fun, and the coastal waters around the UK are often ideal for recreation and watersports. However, you should never underestimate the dangers you face in the sea. 

You can take some simple steps to ensure that you and your family or friends are safe.  

Let someone know where you are going and preferably go with someone else. Always check the weather and conditions and take note of the beach flags. 

Common UK beach flags and what they mean 

It is crucial for anyone wanting to go in the sea to understand the meanings of the most used flags on UK beaches. If you know the flags, you will have a good idea about the water conditions and whether it is safe to enter the sea.  

The flags will also indicate the kind of activities you are safe to undertake in the water.  

Red and yellow flags – Swimming area

Red Yellow Beach Flag UK

This flag means that the beach is a lifeguarded area. It is the safest kind of beach to use for swimming, bodyboarding and inflatables, as lifeguards will patrol the beach within set times. Stay within the flag markers to ensure you are in the patrolled area.  

If you get into any difficulty, you should raise your arm and shout for help. 

Black and white chequered flags – Surfing area

Chequered beach flag surfing

These flags will mark out the surfing area. You should not swim or bathe in this area as there will be a danger of collision. The flags keep surfers away from swimmers and bathers to help keep everyone safe. 

Orange windsock – Dangerous wind

Orange windsock UK

An orange windsock on a beach indicates offshore wind conditions. Offshore wind blows from the land towards the sea and is particularly dangerous as anyone on an inflatable may be blown out to sea very quickly.  

You should NEVER use an inflatable when the windsock is flying as it can be extremely dangerous. 

Red flag – Do not enter the water

Red beach flag UK

Red means danger and this flag is a warning not to enter the sea. Under no circumstances should you enter the water on a beach with a red flag as the conditions mean there is a real risk of drowning.  

Blue flag – Standard of quality

Blue flag beach Uk

The blue flag is nothing to be concerned about, but it is a flag you probably recognise.

Blue Flag is a programme that beaches can qualify for if they meet high levels of environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria. So if you see a beach with a Blue Flag, the water will be clean, there won’t be any rubbish and will be managed safely and sustainably. 

What if there are no flags? 

Beginners are best to stick to lifeguarded beaches. If you come across a beach with no flags, you will have to consider the conditions and assess the risks by doing some research. If in doubt, don’t go out. 

The sea can be unpredictable and can surprise even the most experienced swimmers. The following conditions are easily missed. 

Rip currents 

Rip currents are often invisible, but they can quickly take you out to sea from the shallows. They are strong enough to drag anyone out of their depth within minutes. 

Tides 

If you do not know the tide times, you can get cut off quickly, so always check out the tide times in advance. For more information on tide times, check out the Tide Tables.    

Waves 

Whilst waves can be great fun; they can also be dangerous. Waves can be extremely powerful. Although waves that break on the shore are safe for beginners, surging waves do not break and can easily drag you under the water. Different conditions produce waves with changing characteristics, so knowing how they work will help you keep safe. 

Sea temperature 

Beware of the water temperature, especially outside of the summer months. In the UK, the average sea temperature is only 12°C.  Since anything below 15°C is considered cold water, you must be prepared that your breathing and movement may be impaired.   

For more information on beach safety, check out the RNLI website.  

List of lifeguarded beaches in the UK 

Look here for a complete list of lifeguarded beaches in the UK.

About the author

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Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.

Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.

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