The beach can be a fun place to spend the day, but it’s important to follow safety rules and guidelines.

Enjoying the beach is probably a favorite summer activity for many. Staying safe near the water is an important part of enjoying your beach outing.

Be sure to:

  • follow all beach rules and regulations
  • avoid drinking alcohol if you’re swimming or boating
  • keep an eye on your children at all times

More guidelines for staying safe are listed below.

At the beach, it’s important to find and follow posted signs and flags. This is for your safety.

There may be lifeguards or other beach patrol officers on duty. They may make announcements over a loudspeaker, or you can ask them about beach conditions.

Follow their guidance and instructions. This applies to when you’re on the sand or in the water. They are there to help keep your family safe and ensure everyone has a good time.

Where to look

You can typically find beach rules posted at the entrance or near the lifeguard stand or tower. The following are rules that you may see posted:

  • Look for flags set up on the beach.
  • Know where lifeguard stations are.
  • Look for signs and postings near the entrance or lifeguard tower.
  • Talk with lifeguards for tips and information about the beach and water conditions.

The list below outlines what the colored flags you’ll see posted at the beach generally mean. Your local beach may differ slightly, though.

Ask a lifeguard or beach patrol if you aren’t sure what the flag means before entering the water.

  • Double red flag: water closed, no public swimming
  • Red flag: high hazard of surf and/or currents
  • Yellow flag: medium hazard or moderate surf and/or currents
  • Purple flag: dangerous marine life such as jellyfish, stingrays, or dangerous fish
  • Green flag: low hazard, calm conditions
  • Black and white checkered flag: set up along the beach, usually as a pair, to indicate separate sections to help keep swimmers and surfers safely apart in the water

Examples of beach signs and flags

Information, warning, and safety signs can look slightly different around the country and the world. Here are examples of what you might find for signs and flags at beaches in:

Healthline

Everyone in your party should be a strong swimmer. They should also have experience swimming in the ocean or other large body of water before entering the water.

Beach safety swimming courses may be available at your local Red Cross chapter or YMCA.

When you enter the water, always go in feet first. Avoid diving.

Don’t dive off of:

  • cliffs
  • bridges
  • other high surfaces
Ocean swimming hazards

Swimming in the ocean or a large body of water is different than swimming in a pool or most small lakes. You’ll need to watch out for:

  • tides and undercurrents
  • unexpected changes
  • water depths at drop-offs
  • rocks, debris, and other hazards and obstacles
  • whether there’s local marine life that can sting or bite
  • boats, ships, and other watercraft that may be in the water at the same time
  • bad weather in the area, such as lightning or thunderstorms
  • tsunami warnings

Rip tides are a type of current where tidal water moves quickly under the surface of the water.

Beach swimmers should be more aware of rip currents, or powerful, fast moving water. They create a current that flows away from the beach.

You can spot one if:

  • waves aren’t breaking
  • you see foam on the beach
  • you see seaweed or discolored water being pulled from the shore

If you get caught in a rip current, it’s important to swim parallel back to shore instead of in a straight line.

For more guidance on recognizing, avoiding, and swimming out of a rip current see the National Ocean Service’s video and transcript.

Water conditions can change quickly. Swimming in the ocean is different than a pool. Learn to identify rip currents (see above) and be sure to analyze the water before entering.

  • Keep an eye on kids and friends. It’s possible for drowning to happen quickly and without lots of splashing. It’s also easy for currents to naturally move people up or down the shore from where they entered the water. Be able to identify your party when they’re out in the water.
  • If it’s you, make yourself visible and loud. If you’re caught out in the water and can’t get back to shore safely, wave your arms above water and call out for help. Float or tread water on your back if needed.
  • Call the lifeguard or emergency services. If you see someone else being pulled under or away from shore, call out for a lifeguard or call 9-1-1. Entering the water yourself may be dangerous. Try to throw the person a flotation device or rope to pull them back to shore.

Yes, it’s safe to bring kids to the beach. Be sure to supervise them at all times. Don’t rely on a lifeguard who’s likely watching the entire beach to keep an eye on your child.

If kids want to play in the water, show them the boundaries of where they can go. For younger kids, they may just enjoy sitting in the sand or dipping their toes in the waves.

Older children should be strong swimmers. It’s important that they learn how to safely swim in large bodies of water before they go out on their own. Even strong swimmers can get pulled underwater.

Make sure your kids are using the buddy system and know their limits.

Be aware of the following potential beach injuries:

Small cuts and scrapes

You may step or slip on rocks, sticks, or other debris at the beach. If the beach or water is rocky, you can wear water shoes.

It’s also a good idea to keep a small first aid kit in your car or bring it with you to the beach. You can also ask a lifeguard for a first aid kit if someone you know gets cut or is bleeding.

Jellyfish stings

If a jellyfish stings you or someone you know, get out of the water. Then treat the sting with hot water or a saltwater rinse. A hot shower is also effective.

You can take an over-the-counter pain medication if you’re in a lot of pain. If you feel dizzy or nauseous after getting stung, go the emergency room.

Sunburn

It’s important to wear sunscreen and stay out of the direct sun. Tent canopies, large hats, and cover-ups can help. Also be sure to cover your kids in sunblock, too.

If you get sunburned, take a cold shower or apply a cold compress at the end of your day. You can also apply aloe vera gel or moisturizer. Take an over-the-counter pain medication if you’re in pain.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidelines and recommends staying at least 6 feet apart from people who you don’t live with.

Experts don’t yet know if the new coronavirus — SARS-CoV-2 — that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through saltwater.

According to the CDC, the risk of transmitting the new coronavirus outdoors is less likely than other spaces. But until more information is released, maintain your distance both on the beach and in the water.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or you have a fever, don’t go to the beach because you’ll be around other people. Stay home and rest for your safety and the safety of others.