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AAt South Africa’s many beaches, safety precautions are clearly indicated on notice boards, and at designated swimming or surfing beaches, lifeguards are on duty most of the year to monitor and enforce beach safety procedures.
While swimming, bodysurfing and surfing is permitted at most of South Africa’s beaches, lifeguards will mark out the sections where these activities are safest. Some beaches permit swimming and bodysurfing but not surfboards, while others are designated surfing beaches; some allow both, but in different areas – the permitted activities are usually indicated on the noticeboards and signposts on the beach.
Flags are erected in the sand near the water’s edge to indicate the areas that are safe for swimming. It is very important that bathers do not swim outside these flags, as they may be caught in rip currents and swept out to sea.
Read online surf reports and get local advice about tides and currents before you go swimming or surfing, as these vary from beach to beach and from day to day. Take particular heed of any reports of bluebottles or jellyfish in the water, and if lifeguards or noticeboards warn of jellyfish or bluebottles at a beach you’re visiting, don’t go swimming. Even stepping on the stings washed up on shore can be painful, so tread carefully.
Beaches outside KwaZulu-Natal do not have shark nets, and bathers need to be aware of this. The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board is the only marine protection body in South Africa still using this controversial practice, which many environmentalists regard as an indiscriminate cull. It not only kills sharks, including endangered species, but also dolphins, rays, turtles and other marine life.
However, the waters along the KwaZulu-Natal coast are often a lot murkier than those to the west of the country, so the shark-spotting approach adopted in other provinces may not be as effective. Some see nets as the only viable alternative.
At selected beaches in Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape, shark spotters and flags are used to indicate the presence of sharks. A green flag means the water is clear and no sharks have been spotted.
A black flag means that the water is too murky for the spotters to see anything, and swimming is not advised (especially near river mouths). A red flag means that a shark was sighted earlier that day but is no longer visible to spotters. A white flag with a black shark means a shark in the water is visible to spotters; stay on the beach.
At certain beaches, sirens will sound when a shark is spotted. If you are in the water when this happens, leave the water quickly but calmly.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
National Sea Rescue Institute
Saldhana: +27 (0)22 714 1726
Cape Town: +27 (0)21 449 3500
Port Elizabeth: +27 (0)41 507 1911
East London: +27 (0)43 700 2100 / (0)82 990 5972
Durban: +27 (0)31 361 8567
Richards Bay: +27 (0)82 990 5949
Best time to visit
To reduce the risk of sunburn, avoid the beach between noon and 2pm. Swimming before sunrise or after sunset is very dangerous and should not be attempted.
What to pack
Sunscreen and a hat are essential when visiting the beach in South Africa, any time of year. On summer days (November to March), some form of footwear will be necessary on the hot sand and pavement.