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Green, yellow, red, purple: New safety flag system for French beaches

It is hoped that the colour system will help to improve water safety

View of a beach in Nice, France, near the Promenade des Anglais

The flags will be used across beaches in France (like this one, in Nice) in a bid to improve water safety Pic: LiliGraphie / Shutterstock

France is to introduce a new coloured flag system across its beaches in a bid to improve water safety, reduce drownings and conform to international norms.

New red-and-yellow flags will come into use over the next few weeks, a decree published in the Journal officiel confirmed. The flags will show whether a given swimming area, if in use, is under supervision and safe to use.

The system has already been rolled out across some beaches in France, but is now set to appear almost everywhere.

Triangular flags will be replaced by rectangular ones. The red-and-yellow flags will denote areas for swimming, and there will also be a traffic light system in place to identify how safe the area is to use. 

This will be as follows: 

  • Green: Supervised swimming with no apparent danger

  • Yellow or Orange: Supervised swimming with limited or some possible danger

  • Red: No swimming allowed

  • Purple: Water pollution, or the presence of dangerous (or protected) marine life

The system will also include: 

  • Chequered: An “aquatic or nautical sports practice zone, where swimming is not forbidden but is at the risk of swimmers”.

  • Orange windsock: “Unfavourable wind conditions” for certain nautical activities, such as using inflatables.

  • Blue circle: Area requires authorisation for use, such as for sailing

  • White circle with a red line through it: An activity is banned, such as fishing

  • Yellow triangle with a black edge: A competition is in progress.

The new system will establish a norm across France and bring the country in line with international norms.

France’s famous ‘pavillon bleu’ (Blue Flag) will still remain in place alongside the new system, and will denote a particular quality of a beach and/or swimming area, and the quality of its disabled access.

Read more: France's 'Blue Flag' beaches revealed for 2021 

The new system comes as the Health Ministry seeks to reduce the risk of serious sea drowning incidents, most of which happen in shallow water. 

A 2021 inquiry found that there were 436 incidents that required hospitalisation or led to death within 300 metres of the shore from June 1 to August 21, 2021. 

This makes it the most common area for drowning incidents by far. In comparison, there were 249 in private family swimming pools, 139 in rivers or canals, 119 in lakes or similar, 56 in the sea further out than 300 metres and 44 in public pools.

The study also showed that the highest number of accidental drownings that ended in death were more common in coastal regions, especially in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Occitanie. 

In France, supervision of seaside bathing is carried out either by safety reserve police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), or by the national sea rescue association la Société nationale de sauvetage en mer (SNSM), depending on the area.

Related articles

France's 'Blue Flag' beaches revealed for 2021

399 French beaches win Pavillon Bleu flags

France's cleanest beaches for 2020 revealed

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