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Beach safety advice

There's nothing better than hitting the beach on a sunny day. But don't let your day be ruined by trouble in the water. 

With more people visiting the beach than ever before, our lifeguards and lifeboat crews have never been busier. We believe that, by providing beach safety advice and education programmes, many more lives can be saved.

  • Wherever possible, swim at a lifeguarded beach. Go to goodbeachguide.co.uk to search for listings throughout the UK, or find a lifeguarded beach in the Republic of Ireland on the Irish Water Safety website.

  • Always read and obey the safety signs, usually found at the entrance to the beach. These will help you avoid potential hazards on the beach and identify the safest areas for swimming.

  • When on a lifeguarded beach, find the red and yellow flags and always swim or bodyboard between them – this area is patrolled by lifeguards.

  • Never swim alone.

  • If you get into trouble, stick your hand in the air and shout for help.

  • If you see someone in difficulty, don't attempt a rescue. Tell a lifeguard, or, if you can't see a lifeguard, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.

  • If you are hiring equipment for a surfsport, try to do so from a member of the Surf Hire Safety Scheme. Scheme members check equipment regularly for damage, rent out equipment suitable to your ability and offer safety advice for the local area. Read more or find an outlet.

Image of red and yellow flag

Red and yellow flags

Red and yellow flags indicate the area patrolled by lifeguards. These are the safe areas to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.

 Image of a black and white flag

Black and white chequered flags 

Black and white chequered flags indicate an area zoned by lifeguards for the use of watercraft such as surfboards and kayaks. Never swim or bodyboard in these areas.

Image of a red flag

Red flag

The red flag indicates danger. Never enter the water when the red flag is flying, under any circumstances.

Image of an orange windsock

Orange windsock

The orange windsock indicates offshore wind conditions. You should never use an inflatable when the sock is flying.​

Rip currents (Rips)

Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can easily take swimmers from shallow water out beyond their depth. They are especially powerful in larger surf, but are also found around river mouths, estuaries and man-made structures like piers and groynes.

How to spot a rip current

  • Discoloured, brown water (caused by sand being stirred up from the seabed)

  • Foam on the water's surface

  • Debris floating out to sea

  • A rippled patch of sea, when the water around is generally calm.

How to get out of trouble

If you are caught in a rip or strong current, obey the three Rs:

  • Relax: Stay calm and float. Do not swim against the current, swim across it.

  • Raise: Raise an arm to signal for help. If possible, shout to shore for help.

  • Rescue: Float and wait for assistance. Do not panic; people drown in rips because they panic. Obey directions from the lifeguard.

If you think you are able to swim in, swim parallel to the beach until out of the effects of the rip and then make your way to shore.​

Tides and waves

  • ​Keep an eye on tides. Always check the tide before you enter the water. If you are not sure, check with a lifeguard.

  • Be careful not to get cut off by the tide when walking along the shore.

  • Always ensure your children are not in danger from the tide when playing on the beach.

  • Don't think it is safe to wave dodge. The sea is unpredictable and what looks like fun could end in tragedy, with large waves taking you out to sea.

  • Spilling waves are the safest to swim in. They appear when the top of the wave tumbles down the front.

  • Dumping waves break with great force in shallow water. These are dangerous waves that usually occur during low tide. Avoid the sea when you see dumping waves.


Tombstoning is a high-risk activity that involves jumping or diving from a height into water. It can be dangerous because:

  • water depth alters with the tide

  • the water may be shallower than it seems - submerged objects like rocks may not be visible

  • the shock of cold water may make it difficult to swim

  • strong currents can rapidly sweep people away.

Sonny Wells speaks about how he ended up in a wheelchair after a tombstoning incident went wrong.

However, for those who wish to participate in tombstoning, taking into account the following advice beforehand can reduce the risks:

  • Check for hazards in the water. Rocks or submerged objects under the sea may not be visible through the surface.

  • Check the depth of the water. Remember, tides can rise or fall very quickly; it may start off deep enough but can quickly become shallower.

  • As a rule of thumb, a jump of 10m requires a depth of at least 5m.

  • Never jump while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or peer pressure.

  • Consider the risk to others. Remember, young people could be watching and attempt to mimic the activity.

  • Check for access; it may be impossible to get out of the water.


​At present, there is no formal accreditation scheme for coasteering schools, so you should select a school carefully. We advise that you only go coasteering as part of a group that has:

  • professionally trained staff (both technical and water safety based)

  • adequate insurance cover

  • safety equipment (such as helmets, wetsuits)

  • emergency evacuation and accident procedures

  • pre-defined routes.


  • ​When buying a bodyboard, always purchase a leash and flippers.

  • Always use your board on a lifeguarded beach, between the red and yellow flags.

  • If you get into trouble, don't abandon your board – it will keep you afloat. Wave your hand and shout for help.

  • If you are hiring a board, aim to use a member of the Surf Hire Safety scheme.


  • ​Wherever possible, surf at a lifeguarded beach and follow the advice of the lifeguards.

  • Novices should surf between the black and white flags.

  • Ask a lifeguard for advice on where to surf.

  • Always have a lesson at an approved BSA or ISA school.

  • Always wear your leash.

  • If you get into trouble, don't abandon your board – it will keep you afloat. Wave your hand and shout for help.

  • Never surf alone.

  • Never surf between the red and yellow flags.

  • Never drop in on another surfer.

  • If you are hiring a board, aim to use a member of the Surf Hire Safety scheme.


  • inflatable ​toys are great fun in pools, but we strongly advise against using them in the sea, as there is a high chance of being swept out.

  • If you really want to use an inflatable in the sea, you should do so on a lifeguarded beach, between the red and yellow flags.

  • Never use an inflatable when the orange windsock is flying. This indicates an offshore wind, which could carry you out to sea.

  • Never use an inflatable in choppy sea conditions.

  • Children's inflatables should always be secured with a line, held securely by an adult.


With the RNLI Beach Finder app, you can easily search the UK for lifeguarded beaches, to make sure you and your family have a safe and fun trip to the coast.

Free and available for Apple and Android devices, the app also gives you real-time weather and tide information. Once you've chosen the right beach, you can enter our sandcastle competition, take a challenging beach quiz and send virtual postcards.

With Beach Finder in your pocket, you've got one less thing to worry about this Summer. You don't need to pack the lifeguard. Finding a safe, lifeguarded beach has never been easier.



  • Search the UK for beaches with lifeguards.

  • Enter our sandcastle competition (March-September).

  • Test your knowledge with a challenging beach quiz.

  • Send virtual postcards from your favourite beaches.

  • Check in at beaches using Twitter or Facebook.

  • View live weather and 5-day forecasts.

  • See tide times.

  • Check water quality with information from the Marine Conservation Society.

  • View lifeguard season dates, patrol times and safety warnings.


Download the app:


Image of QR code to download the Beach Finder app  Image of App Store to download Beach Finder app Image of Google Play to download the Beach Finder app