There’s nothing more ideal than a trip to the beach and a day spent in the sunshine with your toes in the sand but there is one rule to follow no matter what shore you spend your next summer on – and that is to check the flags! The beach is still very much a frontier and county flags are really the only way that potential dangers are communicated to the public from the organizations that monitor coastal conditions around the world. These organizations, The United States Lifesaving Association and the International Lifesaving Federation have 5 different flags to indicate danger and caution to swimmers that are displayed on flags typically about 29.25 inches by 39 inches. A lot of beach towns like Anna Maria Island have a couple public life guard stands and many additional beach access points that are not within life guard protection; if you aren’t setting up shop within one make sure to atleast stop by and check for any posted flag warnings before heading out. Print our PDF version and keep it in your beach bag or glove box so always know what the flags mean!
The red flag warns against the highest form of danger to swimmers before they officially close the beach. You may swim but a red flag means that the water is not safe (due to either strong currents, high surf or a combination of those factors which make swimming not advised). Children should never be allowed to swim in red flag conditions and anyone who braves the beach in spite of those warnings should be a strong adult swimmer with a group buddy system.
DOUBLE RED FLAG
If two red flags are raised the county has officially closed the beach to the public and no one is permitted to enter the water. That means there is no possible way to safely swim without putting yourself into risk of serious harm. A variation of the double flag is sometimes used but is obvious enough not to cause confusion, some towns put up a big red sign with a swimmer icon and a X through it in white to indicate NO SWIMMING (like a stop sign).
When a yellow flag is displayed it is providing you a warning level just under the red flag’s. Yellow means that the water conditions are rough and that there could be an undertow and/or moderate surf. If you decide to swim in yellow flag conditions you should do so at a public beach under the watch of a life guard, use safety gear like a life guard and to keep children, the elderly and anyone who may not be able to pull themselves from a undercurrent for any other reason out of the waters. Though not the case for Anna Maria Island, there are some coastal towns that will have a permanent yellow flag raised-this is because the factors attributing to those warnings are a constant presence (beaches that are along reefs, have constant strong tides etc…)
The green flag is the one to hope for when you roll your cooler up to beach and get ready to scout a spot for your towel. This is the ALL OK from the life guard to hop in and take a swim (it’s still the beach, take usual precautions). Seeing green means that the weather is ideal for swimming and the sun is shining.
PURPLE OR BLUE FLAG
Sometimes these colors will be paired with any of the previous 3 to indicate a danger and the acceptable level of going in the water anyway. The purple or blue color will indicate that there is a dangerous marine presence in the water like a shark, jelly fish, or sting rays. The intensity of risk can vary on a number of things (the type of marine life, if it’s a group or scattered presence, how bad the bite or sting renders someone etc.) so the blue or purple is often flown with a green, yellow or red flag to let you know.
While the above flags are the standard for beaches across the board there are places with local variations or additional warnings that are only a risk in that one area (like surfing, reef beaches etc). For this reason it’s always a good idea to do some additional homework, google the county chamber of commerce and ask if there’s anything like this to keep an eye out for!