A beach flag warning system is the Florida gulf coast beach safety standard used on all Northwest Florida beaches.
Two Red Flags mean No Swimming!
Travel to any Florida beach and you’ll see a flagpole flying one or more colorful banners. At any time, there are four possible colors – purple, green, yellow, and red – but they aren’t just there to make the flagpole pretty, they have a very important purpose.
In 2005, the Florida legislature created a uniform beach safety warning system so that visitors to all Florida beaches could immediately know the water conditions. Even so, many people don’t know or understand what the flags mean or why they are there.
Flags fly every day. You only have to know what the color means to know the water conditions for that day.
The colors are:
Purple – marine pests are present, these could be jellyfish, algae, or other marine life
Green – low hazard, calm conditions, exercise normal caution for swimming
Yellow – medium hazard, higher waves, so be careful while swimming
Red – high hazard, strong waves and currents, high surf, the risk for rip currents is high
The flags are flown singly, or in pairs as the conditions warrant. Two Red Flags mean NO SWIMMING! The water is closed due to high surf and dangerous currents. Other two flag combinations might be purple and green or yellow (marine pests present with low to moderate surf), or purple and red (marine pests present with high surf).
In combination with signs that explain their significance, the beach flags are the state of Florida’s only uniform beach safety insignia.
One note on marine pests, you might have heard of the Stingray Shuffle. Stingrays like to settle themselves in shallow, sandy areas, and they will sting when stepped on. To help prevent this, dig your toes into the sand and shuffle your feet under the sand as you walk through shallow water. Also avoid stepping on jelly fish or Man-O-War in both water and on shore.
The beach flags provide general warnings about overall surf conditions and the presence of dangerous marine animals. They do not specifically advise the public of the presence of hurricanes or of rip currents. Even if you are a strong swimmer, high surf is dangerous and a rip tide or rip current can pull you out to sea, even from only knee deep.
Remember, amazing as they are, lifeguards are human and they can only do so much. If you ignore the warnings and go in the water when it is unsafe, you are not only risking your life, but possibly the life of a lifeguard who has to come and save you. Rough seas are not a joking matter. Never put yourself or others who might try to help you in danger by going in the water where there is a double red flag.