Beach Conditions: Water Quality, Flags and Weather

Water Quality

Water quality and bacteria levels vary up and down our coastline. Lifeguards recommend that individuals read and obey water quality signs at the beach to avoid exposure to elevated bacteria levels. Water quality information for Orange County beaches can also be found online at

Furthermore, it is important to understand that a water quality advisory is always issued when there is significant rainfall that may cause bacteria levels in ocean waters to increase. Bacteria levels can increase significantly during and after rainstorms, as contaminants within the runoff enters the ocean. Bacteria levels may remain elevated up to 72 hours following rain, depending upon the intensity of the rain and the volume of runoff. Elevated bacteria levels in ocean water may cause illness, especially in children and the elderly. Beach users should avoid contact with water near flowing storm drains, creeks and rivers. Note, these general advisories are not accompanied with postings at the beaches.


Look for warning flags when you arrive at the beach, and ask the lifeguard what they mean to stay safe.

Lifeguards use a variety of different flags to convey information to beachgoers and bathers for safety purposes. The colored flags that you see on the lifeguard tower work like a stop light. These flags are green, yellow and red. Regardless of which flag is flying, or if there are no flags visible, always check in with the lifeguard for more information.

  • green flag identifies mild ocean hazards and rip currents may be present.
  • yellow flag indicates moderate ocean hazards with typically larger waves and rip currents present.
  • Ared flag represents hazardous conditions with large waves. Expert ocean swimmers only!

In addition, some other flags that lifeguards use include a black ball flag and a checkered flag.

  • A blackball identifies an area that prohibits hardboards such as surfboards or skim boards.
  • A checkered or other colored flags may indicates hazards or boundaries, check with the lifeguard!

Weather and Lightening

When Thunder Roars, Go Inside!

Weather at the beach can change quickly. Lightening travels fast and far. If you hear thunder or see lightening at the beach, don’t risk it! Immediately seek shelter in a building or a car and wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightening strike before going outside again.

Lightening in any open space, like the beach, can be very dangerous. Don’t risk it – seek shelter!