Whether you live close to the ocean or are planning a one-way ticket to anywhere covered in sand and baked by the sun, recognizing the meanings behind beach flags can be crucial. While not every beach flag poses an immediate threat (a green flag actually signifies that the coast is clear, and other distinct flags may be completely irrelevant to you if you don't surf or have no interest in boating activities), being aware of your surroundings is important for swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers alike.
Beach Flags for Those Who Don't Want to End up on the Discovery Channel
- Red Flag: A red beach flag means the current and/or surf is too strong for anyone to safely enter the water. In other words, high hazard - it's time to pack up the PB&Js and head out.
- Double Red Flag: This one is hard to miss. A red over red flag acts as an order for everyone to evacuate the beach. The water is highly dangerous and closed for the public. So, if you didn't see the flag walking onto the sand, you probably noticed a too-good-to-be-true deserted shore - or dozens of families grabbing their beach-day spread and fleeing the scene.
- White Flag with Shark Outline: *Cue Jaws theme song.* This flag warns swimmers and casual beach-goers that a shark is close by, and swimmers should get out of the water immediately.
- Red Pennant Flag: Currents, surf, and sharks aren't the only nautical dangers. The red pennant flag warns of hazardous conditions for small watercraft like sailboats and yachts caused by winds of at least 38 mph. This red flag is also raised when the ice in seas or lakes is present and potentially dangerous for small boats.
- Double Red Pennant Flags: Maybe you're not afraid of sharks, but natural disasters aren't really your thing. Often supplementing a hurricane watch, double red pennant flags tell those in and around the water that winds of 39-54 mph, or "gale-force" winds, exist and may cause danger.
- Red Flag with Black Square: You picked the wrong day for a beach trip. The red flag with a black square indicates a tropical storm warning and winds of 55-73 mph.
- Double Red Flag with Black Square: Most individuals are hiding from windows and finding a safe spot indoors when this flag is raised, but if you just happened to think it was the right time for a quick swim, you will see two red flags with black squares. Don't let the hurricane-generating winds of 74+ mph sweep you away on your drive back home.
Beach Flags that Signal that Your Day Could be Better Spent Elsewhere
- Yellow Flag: If the doggy paddle is your only stroke, you might want to get out of the water. A mid-level hazard, the yellow flag signifies that moderate currents and/or surf exist and weak swimmers should seek land.
- Dark Blue Flag or Purple Flag: Don't worry. No signs of sharks. BUT, if you squirm at the thought of other mysterious, and likely dangerous, marine creatures tickling your side, your time in the water might be over once this flag is raised. A purple, or dark blue, flag indicates there is potentially harmful marine life, like sea snakes, stingrays, and jellyfish, in the water. Just two months ago, a purple flag was raised at the beaches of Pensacola due to a sea lice threat … no one wants to return home from a relaxing day at the coast with a sea lice rash.
Beach Flags for the Active Water Sports Enthusiasts
- Red Over Yellow Flag: The red over yellow flag specifically pertains to those who plan to swim or bodysurf. This flag combo signals that qualified lifeguards are on duty and closely watching those in the water.
- Quartered Black and White Flag: You might be wishing you had rented a kayak or packed your canoe because a pair of these beach flags mark and designate a section of the water for use with only "non-powered" or "human-powered" watercraft.
- Black Ball Flag: Take your surfboards and other non-powered watercraft back to your car, because this beach flag means they are not permitted at this location.
- Half White, Half Blue Cutout Flag: Grab your goggles and your Speedo because diving is in session when this flag is flapping in the wind.
- Red and Yellow Circle with a Black Whale Tail: Introduced in May 2018 to the Pacific Northwest, the Whale Warning Flag includes the red, yellow, and black symbol on a white background. It warns boaters, kayakers, and anyone in the water that whales are in the area and that they need to keep their distance, as required by federal law.
Best Beach Flags for a Lazy Day of Nonstop Tanning
- Green Flag: The ultimate beach day. The water is safe from winds, currents, and creepy creatures that can swim faster than you. When you see the green flag, your only concern should be choosing whether or not to sacrifice a deeper tan to avoid an inevitable sunburn.
- Orange Windsock: Don't lose sight of your kid's inflatable Finding Dory toys - or your giant (way overpriced) swan pool float. Signaling the direction of offshore winds, the orange cone-shaped flag depicts where inflatable items should not be used.
- Blue Flag with FEE Logo: Awarded to beaches that meet certain safety, environmental, and quality criterion as determined by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), the Blue Flag displays three waves and wears the FEE acronym with pride. But that doesn't mean every beach without the flag is below these standards. Of the 73 member nations, the United States does not participate in FEE, so none of its beaches raise the esteemed Blue Flag.
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