Beach flags and warning signs: stay safe in the surf | Photo: Shutterstock

Everyone should learn how to stay safe in the surf, sand, and sun. The beach and the ocean hide many hazards. Discover the visual signs that can be spotted on your favorite beaches.

It's not just the big waves. There are dangerous currents, lightning, harmful algae, sharks, jelly-fish, and man-o-war stings out there.

For example, rip currents account for 80 percent of beach rescues, and can be dangerous or deadly if you don't know what to do. Remember to always swim near lifeguards.

That is why it is so important to know and look for warning signs or flags. Beach signals tell us precious information about the beach and the surf. There are multiple national and regional variations, but the majority of signs are universal.

The United States Lifesaving Association has compiled the most useful safety tips for beachgoers, and surfers too. They are:

1. Learn to swim;
2. Swim near a lifeguard;
3. Swim with a buddy;
4. Check with the lifeguards;
5. Use sunscreen and drink water;
6. Obey posted signs and flags;
7. Keep the beach and water clean;
8. Learn rip current safety;
9. Enter water feet first;
10. Wear a life jacket;

There are eight types of beach safety flags:

The Yellow Flag

Meaning: Medium Hazard
Moderate surf and/or currents are present. Weak swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. For others, enhanced care and caution should be exercised.

Yellow Flag

The Red Flag

Meaning: High Hazard
Rough conditions such as strong surf and/or currents are present. All swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. Those entering the water should take great care.

Red Flag

The Red Over Red Flag

Meaning: Water is closed to public use

Red Over Red Flag

The Purple Flag

Meaning: Marine pests present
Jellyfish, stingrays, sea snakes or other marine life are present in the water, and can cause minor injuries. This flag is not intended to indicate the presence of sharks. In this latter case the red flag or double red flag may be hoisted.

Purple Flag

The Red Over Yellow Flag

Meaning: Recommended swimming area with lifeguard supervision
The area is protected by lifeguards. These flags may be used in pairs spaced apart to indicate a designated area or zone along a beach or waterfront that is most closely supervised or patrolled by qualified lifeguards, and where swimming and/or body surfing is permitted. These flags may be used singly to indicate that swimming is permitted in front of the area where the flag is flown and that the area is under the supervision of a qualified person.

Red Over Yellow Flag

The Quartered Flag

Meaning: Watercraft area
These flags may be used in pairs spaced apart to indicate a designated area or zone along a beach or waterfront that is used by those with surfboards and other non-powered watercraft.

Quartered Flag

The Black Ball Flag

Meaning: Watercraft use prohibited
Surfboards and other non-powered watercraft are prohibited.

Black Ball Flag

The Orange Windsock Flag

Meaning: Offshore winds present, inflatables should not be used
This cone-shaped device is used to indicate the direction of offshore winds and to show that it is unsafe for inflatable objects to be used in the water.

Orange Windsock Flag

You can also find other beach warning signals with different messages for specific beaches and coastal areas:

No Beach Access Beach Closed

Beach: Open, Attention and Closed No Swimming

Caution: High Surf Caution: Sharp Coral

Danger: Strong Currents Caution: Sudden Drop Off

Caution: Slippery Rocks Warning: Shark Sighted

Warning: Jelly Fish First Aid

No Lifeguard On Duty

Unsafe For Swimming