We’re just over a month away from beach season, believe it or not. Soon we’ll be putting out all kinds of information about how to stay safe when visiting the beaches. One area that’s important to refamiliarize yourself with is our Flag Warning System (FWS).
The FSW advises beach patrons of the current water conditions and any applicable environmental warnings. The flag colors described below used to help beachgoers understand the current conditions in the always dynamic environment of open water.
On Galveston Island, informational signs and warning flags are posted each day year-round along Seawall Blvd. at flag warning stations. Also, each guarded Lifeguard tower hoists the appropriate flags for the day, and they also are displayed at beach park entrances.
We post flag color, warnings, and other important safety info on our homepage and on multiple social media platforms every day. You can also sign up on our website to receive the notifications via email and/or text message daily.
Here are the different flags we use and some inside background information on them:
Green: Conditions are calm, but swim with care. Remember this doesn’t mean you’re 100% safe. The ocean isn’t a pool or pond so you should always be extra careful even on flat days.
Yellow: Indicates that beachgoers should use caution when entering the water. This flag is flown for normal ocean conditions to remind swimmers to stay alert. It is very important to stay close to shore on yellow days.
Red: Flown when conditions are rough, such as presence of strong wind, strong current or large surf. Adult swimmers should stay in water no more than waist deep and non-swimmers and children should enjoy the water along the surf line. When there is a red flag flying you should assume the presence of very strong rip currents near any type of structure like groins or jetties.
Purple: Indicates potential problems with jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war, stingrays, or other marine life that could be a hazard for swimmers. Purple flags are used in combination with other flags. Every lifeguard trains before every shift and we are the “Guinea Pigs” to test the waters If we get several stings while swimming, the flags go up. Sometimes a wave of critters comes up midday, so we put the purple flags up when we reach a minimum threshold of the ratio of stings to swimmers.
Orange: Indicates an environmental warning for air and/or water quality. Ask the Lifeguard for more details. Orange pennant flags will be used in combination with other flags. We have a partnership in place with UTMB for air quality warnings and one with the Health District’s Texas Beach Watch Program for water quality warnings. Water quality warnings can be specific to certain places so these flags, when flown, may just be applicable in some areas. We don’t determine when either of these warnings are issued. But we help spread the word by our flag system, or website, or via social media.