Have you seen the little flags posted along the beach boardwalks?
Do you know why they're there, or what they mean?
Every year flags of all shapes, sizes and creeds fill our beaches. From Gulf Shores to Pensacola, you may see little flags at the end of boardwalks, by the public beach restrooms, or by the life guard towers. We made a cheat sheet for why they're there and what they mean. Look for these flags every time you go to the beach. They very well could save your life.
Beach warning flags are posted at ALL Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Public Beaches. Conditions of the weather and water are monitored throughout the day, which is why some days the flags change colors in random points of the day. Every color has its own meaning, but even the lesser danger flags do not ensure safe conditions.
Yellow Flags: Medium Hazard
- This doesn't mean NO hazard. It means moderate surf and current conditions. It's ok to swim, but stay aware of the current and keep an eye on your belongings and children.
Purple Flags: Marine Pests are Present
- Marine Pests...need I say more. This can range from bugs to ocean life, like jellyfish. They're important to the ecosystem but can cause issues for tourists...maybe pack some bug spray.
Single Red Flag: High Hazard
- Be EXTRA aware. A single red flag means the surf is high and the current is strong. We'll talk more about currents later. If you go swimming, stay aware of the rip currents.
Double Red Flags: Water is Closed to the Public
- Water is Closed means the water is closed. Its actually illegal to enter the Gulf of Mexico when 2 red flags are displayed. Double red flags means rip currents are present and they're strong, the wind is strong and the surf is high. Do NOT go into the water, don't let your kids, family, or friends go into the water.
Play it safe when going out for a beach day, check for current beach conditions to ensure a safe and fun experience. We've added several ways to check the conditions of the beach.
Get Daily Surf Conditions by Text, Phone Call, or Online:
- Sign up to receive daily texts during your stay about beach conditions and warning flag status by texting ALBEACHES to 888777. You can opt out at the end of your stay by texting "stop."
- By phone, call (251)968-7873 for Gulf Shores beach conditions.
- By phone, call (251)981-7873 for Orange Beach beach conditions.
- Visit the National Weather Service online, click the Rip Currents tab, for beach conditions all along the Alabama coast.
Rip Currents are powerful, narrow channels of water moving quickly away from the shore. They occur at any and all beaches, and can happen anytime. Before you hit the beach, you need to learn how to recognize them and how to get out them if you get caught in one.
How to Spot a Rip Current:
Rip Currents are most prevalent when waves crash perpendicular to the beach rather than at an angle. One of the easiest ways to spot rip currents is look for gaps between the waves. A small patch of calm water surrounded by waves is a rip current. You can also look for discolored water near the shore. Rip currents tend to stir up large amounts of sand and suck them back towards the sea. Many rip currents are identified by a noticeable amount of sand extending away from the shore. Rip currents are also common in areas near sand bars, piers, pilings, and jetties.
How to Escape a Rip Current:
First, you need to remain calm. Fighting the rip current can exhaust you. Escape the current by swimming parallel to the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle away from the current- towards the shore. If you're unable to escape by swimming, float, or tread water. When the currents weakens, swim at an angle towards the shore. If at any time you fell that you are unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself: Face the shore, Call out, and Wave for help.
To help someone else caught in a rip current, first call 911 for assistance, then grab a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions on how to escape or throw the victim something that floats.
Swimming in the Gulf is very different than swimming in a pool. Respect the strength of the sea and marine life that live there. You may think you're a strong swimmer, but the Gulf is stronger. Always check surf and weather conditions before heading out for some fun in the sun. Observe and obey the beach warning flags, never swim alone, and stay in groups. As always, enjoy your stay and leave only footprints!