Surfing England

The National Governing Body for Surfing in England

Surf Safety


To maximise your enjoyment and keep yourself and others safe when riding waves it’s important to understand surf etiquette. Here are a few basic tips that apply to all boardriders catching waves. If you are unsure, ask a lifeguard to explain.


The RNLI recommends that prior to starting any watersport you should seek advice from an accredited training centre or recognised school. Once you’ve received training in your chosen watersport and you want to practise, you should always choose a lifeguarded beach.

To find your nearest lifeguarded beach go online and visit RNLI Beach Guide

Their website is packed full of useful tips and practical advice to keep safe in and around water.

Check out their dedicated advice to help you understand the beach environment and keep you safe in the surf RNLI Surfing Advice

On arrival at a lifeguarded beach you’ll need to know your flags:


RED FLAG Danger! Never go in the water under any circumstances when the red flag is flying.

RED AND YELLOW FLAGS Lifeguarded area. Safest area to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables.

BLACK AND WHITE CHEQUERED FLAGS For surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and other non-powered craft. Launch and recovery area for kitesurfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard here.

ORANGE WINDSOCK Indicates offshore or strong wind conditions. Never use inflatables when the windsock is flying. When learning, do not kitesurf, windsurf or use stand-up paddleboards in strong winds.



rips are strong currents that can quickly take you from the shallows out of your depth Lifeguards will show you how you can avoid rips but if you do get caught in one:

  •  stay calm – don’t panic
  •  if you can stand, wade don’t 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 parallel to the beach until free of the rip, then make for shore
  •  if you see anyone else in trouble, alert the lifeguards or call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.


Waves are formed by the wind blowing across the surface of the sea. How steeply a beach shelves will also affect the size and type of wave. Spilling waves are ideal for beginner board riders as they break consistently. Start off in the shallow white water before progressing to deeper water and unbroken waves. Dumping waves or heavy shore break should be avoided. These waves break quickly with a lot of force making them dangerous for beginners.


A beach can seem like a vast playground but the tide can come in surprisingly quickly. Many lifeboat and lifeguard rescues are to people getting cut off by the rising water. To prevent this happening to you, get local tidal information from the Harbour Master, the tourist information centre and some seaside retail outlets, or visit weather/coast/tides. Always keep a look out for the tide’s direction while on the beach.


Before you get in the water it’s important to consider your personal fitness as the sea can be a very demanding environment. Swimming is one of the best year-round activities to help prepare your body so we’d recommend you get in the pool and start practising now! Just be aware that sea swimming can be more challenging than the pool so before you start a watersport it’s worth jumping in between the red and yellow flags and familiarising yourself with the conditions.



Always check your equipment before entering the water, for any tears, snags, loose fins, etc. Your craft and equipment are great safety tools.

wetsuit – A wetsuit will keep you warm and comfortable allowing your body to perform more efficiently. Wetsuits are generally made from neoprene and are designed to maintain your body’s core temperature and protect you from the elements. They work by letting a small amount of water in, holding it next to your body, which then heats up from the natural energy produced during exercise. For this reason it’s vital to choose a well-fitted suit to avoid being flushed with cold water. Remember a wetsuit is usually worn with the zip at the back!

Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimetres of neoprene: the thicker the suit the more insulation. As a general rule in the UK most people use full suits, which means long arms and long legs:

  •  5:3 = Winter suit approx Nov–Mar (5mm neoprene core, 3mm limbs)
  •  4:3 = Spring suit approx Apr–Oct (4mm neoprene core, 3mm limbs)
  •  3:2 = Summer suit approx June−Sep

board – when selecting a board you need to consider your height, weight and ability. When starting out, a soft foam board is ideal as it is thick and wide, making it easier to float, paddle and catch waves.

leash – always wear one around the ankle of your back foot so you don’t lose your board if you fall off! Check your leash before surfing for any snags, tears, or anything that looks like its not in good condition. Check the swivels for any rust, and also check your leash string is still holding firm.

wax – apply this to the deck of your board to give you grip.

fins – these are vital when bodyboarding to help you catch waves and swim against strong currents



  • follow the advice of the lifeguards
  • wear your leash so you don’t lose your board
  • check your equipment for damage before use
  • bodyboard between red and yellow flags but surf between the black and white flags
  • • consider other water users − learn surf etiquette and rights of way.


  •  Ditch your board − it will keep you afloat in an emergency and make you easier to find
  •  Go alone • get on the water in conditions above your capability

Check out all the latest Stand up paddleboarding safety advice here –


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