Cornwall is of course renowned for its endless sandy (and pebbly) beaches. You can surf, swim, or
just enjoy the sand, but there are things to know about staying safe on the beaches
No. 1 – Flags
Pay attention to flags in the ocean, especially if you intend to surf or swim. Not all of our beaches are
monitored by lifeguards, but on those that are you will often find flags in the shallows of the ocean.
These are there for your safety, to show you which parts of the ocean are safe to swim or surf in,
and which may have stronger currents that are absolutely not suitable and are unsafe. Here are the
flags to look out for, and their meanings…
• red and yellow flag – lifeguarded area; safest area for swimming, bodyboarding, and for
• black and white checked flag – exclusively for use with surfboards, stand-up paddleboards,
kayaks, and other non-powered crafts. Also used as a launch and recovery area for kite-
surfers and windsurfers. Never swim or bodyboard in this area.
• red flag – a red flag means danger; do not enter the water under any circumstances.
• orange windsock – strong winds; never use inflatables in these conditions.
No. 2 – Lifeguards
It is always sensible to strive to visit a beach with lifeguards, especially if you intend to swim or surf.
No matter how advanced you are, it is always better to make safety a priority. Lifeguards are there
to help in the event that something goes wrong, both in and out of the water.
No. 3 – Rip Currents
Rip currents cause an outstanding number of rescue missions for lifeguards and the coastguard, and
are a major cause of accidental drowning. Rip tides are strong currents that can drag you out to sea.
You can look out for them, and there are ways to help yourself if ever caught in one. A detailed
summary can be found on the RNLI website here, but here are some immediate tips on what to do if
you do find yourself in a rip tide/current…
• don’t swim against the current, you’ll get exhausted
• if you can stand up, stand up and wade back to shore – do not swim
• if you cannot stand, swim parallel to the shore until you are free of the rip tide/current, then
swim toward the shore
• always raise your hands and shout for help
No. 4 – The Tide
Always be aware of the tide. If you are exploring a beach or cove or rocky area whilst the tide is
low/out, you may end up venturing to a spot where you could find yourself cut off as the tide comes
back in. Pay attention to the ever-changing shore line, and if it looks as though you may get cut off,
move back to the main beach whilst you still can. Coves in Cornwall fill themselves with the tide
surprisingly quickly, and don’t often have direct access up to the cliff tops.
Tide times change throughout the month too, so checking a tide schedule online before venturing
out is always a good and safe option.
No. 5 – Cold Water Shock
The ocean waters in England average at a temperature of 12 degrees centigrade, with rivers being
much colder. Anything below 15 degrees centigrade is considered cold water, and can cause ‘cold
water shock’ – which can affect your breathing, movement, and heart rate. Though this doesn’t
seem like a big issue on a hot sunny day, diving straight into cold waters can, in the worst case
scenario, cause heart attacks due. Always acclimatise yourself, enter slowly, and take a few minutes
to adjust before swimming.
No. 6 – Inflatables
These floaties and inflatables definitely look exciting and pretty, but they are made for pools rather
than the ocean. Many rescues throughout the summer are down to inflatables that have either been
dragged out to sea by the current, waves, or winds (strong or subtle). Whilst you’re having fun on a
floatation device, you can often lose track of where you’re headed.
If you do use an inflatable at the beach, here are some safety tips to remember…
• ensure any children are closely supervised
• make sure you are constantly aware of your surroundings, and distance to the shore
• if flags are in sight, keep between the red and yellow beach flags
• never use a floatation device if the orange windsock is flying – this means strong winds
• do not take inflatables out into big waves
No. 7 – The Sun
Sunburn can often sneak up on you, whether you’re bathing on the beach or in and out of the ocean.
Here are some tips to keep your skin safe…
• sun cream – the recommended SPF is 30 and up. You should apply waterproof sun cream every
• sun hat – a sun hat will prevent your face, neck, and ears from getting burnt, and will also prevent
your head from overheating.
• sunglasses – uv sunglasses will help to shield your eyes from the strong rays.
• shade – during the hottest time of the day (between 11am – 3pm) the uv rays are also at their
strongest. It’s recommended to seek shade during this time, to prevent sunburn or sun stroke.
No. 8 – Weever fish
We do have the dreaded weever fish on some of our shores, and though cases are rare… stings do
happen. Stings are painful, but they can affect everyone differently. These very small, sand coloured
fish, hide themselves in the sand along the shore line. Jelly shoes or swim shoes are a great way to
prevent nasty barbs piercing the skin, but if you do have an unfortunate experience – head for the
lifeguard. If there is no lifeguard on duty, the best thing to do is place the affected area into hot
water for at least 10 minutes. You should seek medical attention in case of any allergic reaction.
With summer on the way, you can now keep yourself extra safe on the beaches with these top
safety tips. For more information, you can visit the RLNI website, or speak to any lifeguards on duty.