Lifeguard patrols can't be on every beach. But with you by their side, your family can stay safe.
If you can’t make it to a lifeguarded beach, then read our safety advice below. Some simple steps can help you have a safe and enjoyable trip to the seaside.
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How can I stay safe on the beach?
- Choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags
- 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
- Fight your instinct to thrash around
- Lean back, extend your arms and legs
- If you need to, gently move them around to help you float
- Float until you can control your breathing
- Only then call for help or swim to safety
When you’re heading to a beach, we urge you to respect the water and visit a lifeguarded beach. On a lifeguarded beach there are trained professionals to help keep you safe – they’ll be on hand if something goes wrong, in or out of the water. Follow safety advice to protect yourself and your loved ones – and you’ll help to reduce the demands placed on our lifeboat crews and other emergency services.
Use our find my nearest beach tool to find a lifeguarded beach near you. You can search by address, postcode, or you can use the map to look for the closest beach to you. There will be information on the dates and times the beach is patrolled by RNLI lifeguards, so you know the safest time to head down to the beach. There is also a weather forecast and tidal information.
So now you’re ready to hit the beach there are a few important things to remember, whether lifeguards are on duty or not.
Beach flags and 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
Do not enter the water at any time. Swimming and other water-related activities are not permitted.
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.
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 beach flag
Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.
Black 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 beach flag
Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.
Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying.
Understand the sea
Rips are strong currents running out to sea, which can quickly take you from the shallows out of your depth.
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 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.
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.