A beach flag warning system is the South Carolina beach safety standard used all along the coast and in Myrtle Beach. Here is what the flags mean.
Travel to any South Carolina beach and you’ll see a flagpole next to the lifeguard stand flying one or more colorful banners. At any time of the day you may see one of these colors – purple or blue, green, yellow, or red – or there may be a combination of two colors, and they have a very important purpose.
In 2002, South Carolina adopted the International Lifesaving Federation uniform beach safety warning system so that visitors to all of the state’s beaches could immediately know the water conditions. Even so, many people don’t know or understand what the flags mean or why they are there.
Flags fly every day. You only have to know what the color means to know what the water conditions are for that day.
The colors are:
Purple or Blue – marine pests are present, these could be jellyfish, algae, or other marine life such as sharks or stingrays, use caution while swimming
Green – low hazard, calm conditions, exercise normal caution for swimming
Yellow – medium hazard, higher waves, so be careful while swimming
Red – high hazard, strong waves and currents, high surf, the risk for rip currents is high
In the Myrtle Beach area, you'll see a blue flag indicating marine pests. The flags are flown singly, or in pairs as the conditions warrant. For instance, a purple or blue flag and a green flag mean the water is calm, but marine pests are present. Other two flag combinations might be blue and yellow (marine pests present with moderate surf), or blue and red (marine pests present with high surf). When Myrtle Beach lifeguards fly the red flag, that means absolutely No Swimming!
You may also see the sign below posted at beach walkovers and other locations along the Grand Strand offering a quick reminder.
Two Red Flags also mean NO SWIMMING! The water is closed due to high surf and dangerous currents.
The beach flags provide general warnings about overall surf conditions and the presence of dangerous marine animals. However, they do not specifically advise the public of the presence of hurricanes or of rip currents.
If you visit the beach during hurricane season (June 1st to November 30th each year) be aware that an off-shore hurricane or tropical storm can affect on-shore tides and surf. Even if you are a strong swimmer, high surf is dangerous and a rip tide or rip current can pull you out to sea, even from only knee deep water.
Remember, amazing as they are, lifeguards are human and they can only do so much. If you ignore the warnings and go in the water when it is unsafe, you are not only risking your life, but possibly the life of a lifeguard who has to come and save you. Rough seas are not a joking matter. Never put yourself or others who might try to help you in danger by going in the water where there is a double red flag.
Be smart. Be safe. Have Fun on the Grand Strand.
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