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France: Flags on beaches

Last modified: 2004-07-10 by
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Beach watching system

French beaches usually have a pole to hoist a swimming condition flag. I do not know if there is some law or regulation prescribing such an hoisting. I guess there are, since several beaches have an official first-aid post, whose members are responsible of hoisting the relevant flag. Those posts are managed by members of the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), a corps of mobile police forces created in 1945 and mostly famous for repression of demonstrations and crowd movements. The first-aid branches of CRS (they also serve in mountain first-aid) have a better reputation than those seen in the streets.
The CRS members serving on the beaches have police power and are allowed to forbid access to the sea when necessary, and reinforce swimming and yachting rules. They pay special attention to the respect of the areas dedicated to swimming, windsurfing, yachting, and motorboating, respectively. Most of their activity is first-aid to people who have any kind of problems (immersion syncope, sunstroke, jellyfish and weever stings, pickpocket attacks, but also lighter problems such as children who lost their parents in the crowd, adults who lost their car keys in the sand or got the car stuck in the sand etc.)

The main difference with the flag Spanish system is that the flags seem to be always triangular in France. Their meaning is also slightly different because a notion of watching is added.

No flag means that swimming is not watched. Beaches were swimming is never watched do not have a pole but a shield explicitely stating their status (Baignade non surveillée).

These flags are shown in several sources, for instance the guides released by the tourist offices. The source for the information given below is the guide released by the tourist office of Trouville (2003). An additional source, especially for the surfing flags, is the website of the sea resort of Mimizan.

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2004

Green flag

[Green beach flag]by Ivan Sache

A green triangular flag means that swimming is allowed and watched.

Orange flag

[Orange beach flag]by Ivan Sache

An orange flag means that swimming is allowed and watched, but hazardous.

Red flag

[Red beach flag]by Ivan Sache

A red triangular flag means that swimming is strictly prohibited and not watched.

Yellow flag

[Yellow beach flag]by Ivan Sache

A yellow triangular flag means that swimming is inadvisable because of pollution. The pollution might be of biotic origin, for instance presence of medusa.

Violet flag

[Violet beach flag]by Ivan Sache

The violet triangular flag was recently superseded by the yellow flag to indicate pollution.

Blue flag

[Blue beach flag]by Ivan Sache

A blue triangular flag shows the limits of the watched area.

Red and white striped flag

[Red and white beach flag]by Ivan Sache

A flag with thirteen red-white vertical stripes means than swimming and use of floating devices is hazardous because of land breeze.

Green flag with a red disk

Green and red flag]by Ivan Sache

A green triangular flag with a red disk shows the limits of the area where surfing is allowed.

Windsurfing flag

[Windsurfing flag]by Ivan Sache

A black and white diagonally divided flag means that, according to the weather conditions, the wind direction and/or the sea conditions, windsurfing might be locally and temporarily hazardous, but is not prohibited. It is the windsurfer's duty to decide, according to his/her personal skills and the quality of his/her equipment, if s/he can go windsurfing in spite of a signalled hazard.