Lifeguards and safety flags
Whenever possible, try to find a beach with a lifeguard and always obey the safety flags and signs. Find out more about how you can stay safe on the coast.
Where to find a lifeguard
There are over 1,200 beaches in the UK, with 11 million people taking part in active water sports and leisure activities every year. To make sure you are safe, find a beach with a lifeguard. You can ask a lifeguard for advice about conditions in the water, like how strong the waves are, and where it's safe to swim.
Lifeguards also provide help if you get into difficulty in the water or on the beach. The Royal National Lifeguard Institution (RNLI) patrols more than 100 beaches in the UK during the summer months (May to September).
To find out which beaches are manned by lifeguards, check the Good Beach Guide.
If you see someone in difficulty
Don't attempt a rescue - tell a lifeguard, or dial 999/112 and ask for the coastguard. These numbers apply in the Republic of Ireland too.
Pay attention to the safety flags on the beach
When you're on the beach, pay attention to the flags and signs. They give important safety information about the area you are in, like whether:
- it's safe to swim
- the beach is good for surfing or using pleasure craft, like yachts
- there are any hazards in the area
The following is a list of the different coloured flags you may see on the beach and what they mean. You can also ask a lifeguard.
Red and yellow flags
These flags mark areas that are patrolled by lifeguards. These are the safest places to swim or use a bodyboard.
A red flag indicates danger. Never enter the water when the red flag is flying.
Black and white chequered flags
If you see a black and white chequered flag, it means the area is safe for watercraft, like surfboards and kayaks. It's not safe to swim or use a bodyboard in these areas.
If you see an orange windsock flying, it means there are dangerous wind conditions. Never use an inflatable, like a tube or a dinghy, when the orange windsock is flying - you could get swept out to sea.
Other signs on the beach
Make sure you read and obey any safety signs you see at the entrance to the beach. These signs give information about what you can and can't do on the beach.
What to do if the beach doesn't have a lifeguard
Lifeguards aren't on duty all year round and some beaches have no lifeguards or safety signs at all. If there are no lifeguards on the beach when you arrive, you’ll need to look out for any risks and hazards yourself.
See 'Understanding waves, tides and currents' for more information about how to recognise hazards at the beach.