Beach Safety

This is our playground and we are fortunate in England to have many RNLI lifeguarded beaches, where trained professionals ensure we all stay safe in the water. RNLI lifeguards also have comprehensive first aid training and equipment.

Know Your Signs

Most beaches have safety signage at the entry point which will tell you the key hazards on the beach and any prohibited activities.

Signs in red mean an activity is prohibited, whilst yellow or orange triangles represent hazards

Know Your Flags

At a lifeguarded beach, different flags are used for water users, and its essential you learn these to surf in the correct zone.

Red and yellow flags – for swimmers, bodysurfers, hand planes, bodyboards.

Black and white chequered flags – for surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kite surfers and windsurfers.

Red flag – danger. Never go in the water when the red flag is flying.

Orange windsock – indicates strong or offshore wind conditions. Do not use inflatable craft, such as stand-up paddleboard when this is flying. If you are on any other craft, be extra careful that you are not drifting out to sea if the wind is strong offshore.

Find a lifeguarded beach

Tides, Waves And Rip Currents

The beach is a natural environment where conditions are constantly changing, which will impact the surf and your ability to safely enjoy it. 

Some of the key features and potential hazards you need to know about: 


This is the rise and fall of water, from high and low tide. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, as well as the rotation of the earth.   In the UK we have some of the biggest tides in the world, so the beach can look very different at low and high tide.  The shape and power of the waves can also change significantly at different tide states as well as the power of rips and currents.    At the beach you can speak to a local surf school or lifeguard to learn more, including if there are any high tide cut offs, rock hazards, groynes, etc. 

Find a lifeguarded beach


It’s what you’ve come for, but you need to be able to spot the different types of waves the hazards associated with them:

Spilling or Crumbly Waves – tend to be our most common type of wave and great for beginners. Breaking over beaches with a gentle gradient they are not too steep and break gently.

Hollow Waves – tend to break over reefs and sand banks with a quicker change in gradient. At their best, they produce the hollow barrels experienced surfers love, but they are also very powerful and can be shallow and dangerous

Dumpy waves – often breaking right onto the shore or very shallow water, they can break with significant force and are best left for the experienced

Beach Breaks – describing any wave breaking over a sandy bottom, they can vary from crumbly waves to hollow waves depending on the sand banks, and you may find a beach produces both types of wave at different tide states. You can find your local RNLI guarded beach break here:

Point beaks – unlike a beach break, in the these waves break along a point, often made by a river mouth, headland or reef. In the UK, these spots are often trickier to access, not lifeguarded and can carry additional risks from rips and rocky bottoms, so generally best left to the more experienced


A rip current is a strong current that can take you quickly from shallow to deep water. As waves break they push water toward the shoreline, when that water escapes back out to sea it can forms a current or rip. Beach topography will also effect where they form, if the sand is lower in one area it can form a channel where water naturally floods out to deeper depths. At a lifeguarded beach, lifeguards will ensure the flags are in the safest areas of the beach.

How to spot a rip current:

Top tips if you get caught in a rip current (recommended by RNLI):

Stay calm, don’t panic.

If you can stand, wade towards shore rather than trying to swim.

Keep hold of your board or inflatable to help you float.

Raise your hand and shout for help.

Never try to swim directly against the rip or you’ll get exhausted.

Swim or paddle parallel to the beach until free of the rip, then make for the shore, using the waves to propel you if possible.

If you see anyone in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

What to do if you get caught in a rip current:

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