Posts Tagged ‘what the shark flags mean’

What do the Cape Town shark flags mean? Nobody knows! Allow me to clarify.

January 16, 2013

I’ve swum in the sea in Cape Town at least once a day since I arrived home a month ago and guess what? I’m still not dead! Not only am I not dead, I still have all my arms and legs.

I mention this because I’ve asked a few of my friends, many of whom are regular beach goers, what the flags mean. They all agree that the Black flag with the white shark means a shark’s been seen in the bay. The others… they’re not sure really. They all agree the red one means danger and the green one might mean there’s a shark. They’re all understandably confused, because the flags are stupid. They make it look to anyone driving by as if Cape Town’s sea is infested with great whites. In fact, it’s not nearly that dangerous.

This is one scary flag. What does it mean? Answer: NOT that there is a shark in the water.

This is one scary flag. What does it mean? Answer: NOT that there is a shark in the water. It means that visibility is poor and the shark spotters can’t guarantee they’ll see it if it’s there. This is the case most of the time.

Now you know.


Okay, apologies for the poor color. South Africa has always been rather bad with colour and don’t care for it much, so the sign is a little faded. A GREEN flag is the best. It means it’s safe to swim and the shark spotters up on the mountains will probably see the sharks in time to sound a warning. The BLACK flag is second best. It means they can’t see for sure, but they probably will. And the RED one is actually not the end of the world. Means there’s a shark cruising around in nearby beaches. WHITE is bad news. That means there’s a shark. Don’t swim. Even if only out of courtesy to the poor shark spotters, who hate it when you die cause then people think they didn’t do their job in time.

When they see the black flag – or any of the flags with sharks, my friends do one of two things, assuming it means “there’s a shark and the surfers are only out there because they wanna die”:
1. Turn round and drive home.
2. Drive to a beach that doesn’t have shark flags at all. Cause what you don’t know won’t hurt you. UNLESS IT’S A FUCKING SHARK. Duh.


A fun sign explaining surf etiquette to beginners and Ubuntu to everybody. Muizenberg has some great waves, but is also known to be a beginner’s beach. It’s the best place imaginable to learn to surf, and well-serviced by the shark spotters, who have a great view from their station, high up on Boyes Drive. The water is also warm. I’ll never forget my final sunset swim with my mom, the clean white foam, the soft salty light.