How to stay safe at the beach this summer

It's the festive season, a time when holidaymakers will be flocking to the Western Cape and its beaches for some relaxation.

While this may be an opportunity to relax and have fun at the beach, remember that accidents can happen at any time. Have a look at these helpful safety tips to keep your family safe at the beach these holidays.

Stay safe at the beach

Beach safety
  • Swim only where there are lifeguards on duty and where signs indicate that it's safe to swim.
  • Make sure that lifeguards can see you when you are in the water.
  • Don't swim when lifeguards are off duty.
  • At the beach, always swim between the red and yellow flags. These indicate safe and supervised swimming areas. Areas outside these flags might conceal dangerous currents and tides. Only swim in areas where other people are present.
  • Surfers and body-boarders should not surf in areas where bait and game fish are running, where seals are present or seabirds are diving.
  • If you find yourself in trouble, raise your arm to attract the lifeguards' attention and do not panic.
  • If you see someone in trouble in the sea, alert the lifeguards or find help. Don't put your own life in danger as well.
  • Don't drink and swim or drive motor boats. Alcohol dulls the senses, slows the reactions and can cause irresponsible behaviour.
  • Know how to do CPR or how to blow air into another person's lungs until help arrives.
  • Don't dive from tidal pool walls, as this has been known to result in spinal injuries.
    Swim only at low tide when no waves are breaking over the walls. The pools provide a safer option to swim in than the oceans, as the currents are kept at bay.
  • Do not take out small or unstable boats far from shore in choppy water or stormy weather.
  • Ensure that you protect your skin from too much exposure to the sun. Too much sun can cause sunstroke.
  • Stay indoors during the hottest time of the day (11am to 3pm), and make use of sunscreen, hats and other attire.

Swimming pool and diving area safety

  • Any children under the age of seven must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Always obey the superintendent's instructions.
  • Do not swim under or near the diving boards.
  • Only one person should be on a diving board at any given time.
  • Do not jump or dive to the side of the diving board.

Any emergency and/or distress call regarding drowning can be reported to the 107 emergency number from a Telkom line.

Cellphone users need to dial (021) 480 7700.

Leave it better than how you found it

We're fortunate to have the Western Cape coastline as part of our home. There are also several international blue flag beaches located in our province, which we are extremely proud of. Let's all pitch in to keep our beaches clean and clear of any litter, because litter can cause a safety hazard to humans and marine life, especially glass and plastic. Remember to leave it better than how you found it - if you see it, pick it up, and be an example to other beachgoers.

Safety At the Beach
Rip currents

According to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), rips develop anywhere where there are breaking waves. The "rivers" of current are produced by water draining from the beach and back out to sea. Rip currents are not “undertow”, and will not pull you under the water. Here are some tips from the NSRI:

How to spot a rip current

Although not always detectable, strong rip currents have the following signs:
  • Water through a surf zone that is a different colour than the surrounding water.
  • A break in the incoming pattern of waves.
  • Seaweed or debris moving out through the surf zone.
  • Isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone.
What to do when caught in a rip current
  • If you are caught in a rip current the main thing to do is to stay calm and relax.
  • Swim slowly and conservatively, parallel to the shoreline or relax and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slacks.
  • If you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back to the beach.
  • When you head back in, do so at an angle to the shoreline. Again, maintain a slow and relaxed pace until you reach the shore or assistance arrives.
  • Always make sure you are swimming where lifeguards are on duty. Remain calm and raise your arm to attract the lifeguards' attention.

colourful beach huts

Shark safety tips

  • Do not swim, surf or surf-ski when birds, dolphins or seals are feeding nearby.
  • Do not swim in deep water beyond the breakers.
  • Do not swim if you are bleeding.
  • Do not swim near river mouths.
  • Do not swim, surf or surf-ski near areas where trek-netting, fishing or spear fishing is taking place.
  • If a shark has recently been sighted in an area where no shark spotters are present, consider using another beach for the day.
  • First time visitors to beach areas should ask the local law enforcement officials, lifeguards or locals about the area.
  • Obey beach officials at all times.
  • For kayaking or surf-skiing far out to sea, consider paddling in groups and staying close together (in a diamond formation).
  • Consider using a personal shark shield when you go surfing or kayaking.
  • Pay attention to any shark signage on beaches.

Shark spotter flags:

Spotting conditions are good

A green flag means that the spotting conditions are good and no sharks have been seen.

Spotting conditions are poor

A black flag means that the spotting conditions are poor, but no sharks have been seen.

There is a high shark alert


A red flag indicates a general shark alert, and is raised when a shark has been observed in the area in the past two hours, when an increased presence of sharks has been observed or when conditions conducive to increased shark activity exist, example; fish activity or whale strandings. This flag will be lowered only when the alert is no longer necessary and will be flown in conjunction with one of the other spotting flags.

A shark has been spotted – sirens will sound; leave the water immediately


A white flag with a black shark diagram means that a shark is currently near the beach, and beach users must get out of the water. A siren will sound and the white flag will be raised.


Reporting beach emergencies

Make sure you keep emergency numbers memorised or saved for urgent assistance. Call 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cell phone.

Sources: City of Cape Town and National Sea Rescue Institute

The content on this page was last updated on 27 December 2017