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After writing my last post on Coffs Harbour, I realised that not everyone is familiar with our use of flags on our beaches here in Australia. In fact, I am not really sure if they are used in other countries. I have travelled extensively and don’t remember seeing flags on overseas beaches. I remember hearing many times over the years and even as recently as last Christmas where visitors to our country have drowned at non-patrolled beaches which is indicative of the lack of awareness that many folks have of our system.

The beach is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. Although it can be very fun, it can also be unpredictable and dangerous to people who are unaware of the hazards. That’s why lifeguards who understand the beach use a system of flags and signs to advise the people who visit with the things they need to know.

The most important flags on the beach are the red and yellow flags. These show the supervised area of the beach and that a lifesaving service is operating. If there are no red and yellow flags, you should not go swimming.

Beaches are patrolled at various times and locations. The red and yellow flags, such as the ones above, tell you that these beaches are open for swimming between the flags.

Australian beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. However, the surf can be unpredictable. That’s why lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers put up the red and yellow flags to show you the supervised area.

Swimming between the red and yellow flags has been Surf Life Saving Australia’s (SLSA) mantra for many years and the organisation is not wavering from this stance.

I am from the northern beaches of Sydney where we spent most of our time while growing up at the beach. The red and yellow flags at the beach is what we always looked for as soon as we arrived at the beach and this is where we planned to swim.  It is perfectly normal for us because we must respect the force of the ocean and respect the rules of the SLSA.  The surf life savers, many of whom are volunteers, are on constant watch of all the swimmers throughout each day. When you are swimming between the flags, and if you get in to difficulty, you raise your arm and you will have a surf life saver with you in a very short time. They usually arrive to you now in motorized inflatable rescue boats.  

Surf Life Saving Australia is urging the public to take precautions when recreating in coastal areas this summer:

  • Where possible, swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags
  • Obey the safety signs at the beach
  • Learn how to identify a rip current and look for rip currents before deciding where to swim
  • If you’re not sure, ask a lifesaver or lifeguard about the beach conditions
  • Don’t go into or on the ocean during severe weather warnings
  • Take personal responsibility, think twice and assess your safety before entering the water
  • Supervise children at all times in and around water.

Remember, always swim between the flags on Aussie beaches, it could save your life.