Keep you and your loved ones safe by following our essential coastal safety advice. Whatever time of the year you visit the coast, you need to know how to protect your family. Some simple steps can help you have a safe and enjoyable trip to the seaside.
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How can I stay safe at the coast?

  • Keep you and your family back from the water’s edge.
  • Always check tide times so you don’t get cut off.
  • Keep an eye out for local warning signs.
  • If you're in trouble in the water, float to live.
  • In an emergency dial 999 for the Coastguard (UK) or 112 for the Coast Guard (Ireland).

How to Float to Live

  1. Fight your instinct to thrash around
  2. Lean back, extend your arms and legs
  3. If you need to, gently move them around to help you float
  4. Float until you can control your breathing
  5. Only then call for help or swim to safety

How can I stay safe on cliffs?

When walking or running along clifftops at the coast, you need to be aware of the hazards. Cliffs may look safer than they are.

  • Check the weather conditions before your trip.
  • Watch for warning signs that point towards dangerous areas.
  • Stay away from the edge at all times.
  • Always keep your dog on a lead.
  • In an emergency, dial 999 (UK) or 112 (Ireland) and call for help.

Beach flags and signs

Signs

When you arrive at the beach the first thing you might see is a sign giving you all the information about the beach you’re visiting. This includes important safety info on the hazards specific to the area. The signs generally use two different types of warning symbols. Do you know the difference?

Red and white prohibition sign

Red and white prohibition sign

Do not enter the water at any time. Swimming and other water-related activities are not permitted.

No lifeguards on beach - sign

No lifeguards sign
There is currently no lifeguard service at this beach. You should exercise caution and follow all safety advice to protect you and your family.

Flags

If the beach you’re at is not lifeguarded, please take extra care if you are going into the water. If lifeguards are on patrol, then you’ll need to know your flags:

Red and yellow flagRed and yellow beach flag

Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.

Black and white flagBlack and white chequered beach flag

For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kitesurfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard here.

Red flagRed beach flag

Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.

Orange windsockOrange windsock

Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.

Understand the sea

Rip currents

Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can quickly take you from the shallows out of your depth.

Tides

A beach can seem like a vast playground but the tide can come in surprisingly quickly.

Getting cut off by the tide contributes to a significant number of RNLI rescues every year. 

Waves

Waves are great fun, but they can be dangerous. They have different characteristics depending on the beach and conditions - understanding how they work will keep you safer.

Cold water shock

Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement. Average UK and Ireland sea temperatures are just 12°C.  

Missing children

Children are safest when supervised.

As soon as you get to the beach, agree a meeting point in case of separation. If the beach runs a children's safety scheme, using wristbands or tickets, take part. They're free and they work.

Safety guides

Two lifeguards walking towards a red and yellow flag on a beach in Pembrokeshire.
Lifeguarded beaches
RNLI lifeguards patrol over 240 beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. Enjoy the coast and stay safe. 
Find a lifeguarded beach
A reconstruction of the rescue of a kitesurfer by lifeguards at Exmouth
How we keep beaches safe
From beach safety and prevention to rescuing those in trouble, find out how RNLI lifeguards keep beaches around the UK safe.
How we keep them safe