One of the main reasons for visiting Portugal, is the quality of it beaches and sea. This page provides some tips on how to enjoy your visit in safety.
Portugal has an abundance of beaches from the north to the south of the country. The Algarve has a coastline of about 200 kilometres, which contains more than 150 beaches. From long sandy beaches on the islands and some parts of the mainland of eastern Algarve to a combination of beaches formed by sand and rock formations.
The beaches in the Algarve have a fine, golden or white sand, which determines the aesthetic outlook of the beaches. The sand is very comfortable for walking alongside the beaches. The combination of sandy beaches, rock formations and one of the best climates in Europe have turned the Algarve primarily into a summer and sea destination for families.
In order to minimize the number of accidents and ensure beach safety during the current bathing season, the National Maritime Authority and the General Directorate of Health reinforce the importance of complying with the recommendations, so that we can have a safer bathing season.
Avoid swimming in areas where there are no lifeguards. You should also exercise caution when swimming at beaches that connect to rivers as the streams and currents can be more hazardous.
On the beaches where there are lifeguards, there are typically flags placed to indicate the level of danger to swimmers. It’s important to know what these warning flags mean and to adhere to them.
Green Flag – Safe to swim
Yellow Flag – You may remain at the water’s edge or paddle, but no swimming
Red Flag – Danger, no swimming
Checkered Flag – Beach is temporarily unmanned
Blue & Purple Flags – Dangerous marine life has been spotted e.g jellyfish, stingrays, sea snakes, sharks
Keep in mind that if you ignore any of the warning flags there are consequences (besides the obvious safety ones) – the Maritime Police frequently issue fines to those not adhering to a lifeguard’s warnings.
It’s also important to note that after September, the swimming season in Portugal is considered closed, so although the weather may still be mild and beaches inviting, there are no lifeguards on duty and no safety flags will be displayed, regardless of conditions.
Check with the locals about when and where it is safe to swim or surf, and be extra vigilant when in the water.
New yellow and red beach flags, placed in pairs at Portuguese beaches, are being used to mark areas that are patrolled by lifeguards and are considered the safest places to swim. The flags are now obligatory on Portuguese beaches and can easily be moved around by lifeguards to indicate the safest areas to swim on any particular day.
They can also be used to avoid some common dangers on Portuguese beaches like rocky areas, breakwaters, sunken ships and rip currents. This new system had already been implemented at some Algarve beaches in 2017 but became mandatory in summer 2018.
A rip current is a narrow, fast-moving channel of water that starts near the beach and extends offshore through the line of breaking waves.
Spotting a rip current can be difficult, and really needs some practice. But when you go to the beach, start off by staying back from the water. Rip currents are easier to see at an elevated position, like a dune line or beach access, and then look for places where waves aren’t breaking, so flat spots in the line of breaking waves. And then also where there’s maybe foam or sediment in the water being transported away from the beach offshore.
Rip currents can occur anywhere you have breaking waves, like large sandy beaches on the open ocean. But they can also occur where you have hard structures, like jetties, or piers, or even rocks jutting out into the ocean.
If you do get caught in a rip current, the best thing you can do is stay calm. It’s not going to pull you underwater, it’s just going to pull you away from shore. Call and wave for help. You want to float, and you don’t want to swim back to shore against the rip current because it will just tire you out. You want to swim out of the rip, parallel to shore, along the beach and then follow breaking waves back to shore at an angle.
The Algarve’s west coast tends to be more hazardous due to the powerful Atlantic Ocean. Surfers and wind-surfers like this coast for its conditions and near-perfect waves, but obviously the wilder water presents a greater risk. Extra caution should be used if you plan on swimming or participating in water sports on the west coast. It is important to monitor weather warnings in these areas.
Why is it so important to pay attention to dives?
Accidents caused by head diving are one of the main causes of spinal cord injuries, especially in places with a depth of less than 150 centimetres.
These accidents can result in head trauma and spinal cord injuries, in particular situations of loss of control and sensitivity of the legs (paraplegia) and loss of movement of the trunk, legs and arms (tetraplegia). In more serious cases, the victim may even die.
Wen is there a higher accident rate? Diving accidents show some seasonality and mostly happen between May and September (85%).
Should diving be avoided? No. It is not necessary to prohibit diving at all. If you want to dive, you must confirm that the safety conditions are in place and take some essential precautions. For example: do not dive into water: unknown depth, low depth (less than twice the diving height); cloudy or with rock; in unlit areas (at night). Always dive with your arms straight out in front of you to protect your head and neck. In unfamiliar places, dive with your “feet” (enter the water with your feet first and not your head) and do not consume alcohol or drugs before diving.
How do injuries occur? Most accidents happen because the water depth at the dive sites was not calculated. Diving injuries generally occur when the head hits the ground, as after the impact the neck receives the weight of the body and produces flexion or extension, which can lead to a fracture or displacement of a cervical vertebra (usually the C5 or C6), and result in spinal cord trauma.
The type of damage caused varies according to the weight, speed and, mainly, the position of the head and spine during the impact. The worst consequence is paralysis and the impossibility of moving the limbs. In other words, the degree of spinal cord injury can end up in a condition of quadriplegia, in which there is paralysis of the arms and legs, or paraplegia, in which the paralysis is only of the legs.
Where do these accidents occur? Diving accidents can happen on beaches, swimming pools or other bathing areas, coastal or river, but they are more common in swimming pools than at sea, with the majority of accidents occurring during leisure activities and not during sports.
What are the recommendations for safe diving?
A poorly calculated dive can have lifelong consequences, so you should bear in mind :
Beaches in the Algarve are generally safe although in some areas due to sea erosion cliffs can be unstable. Where this is the case there are signs in place advising people not to walk too close to the cliff edge. They also indicate areas on beaches close to the foot of cliffs that are best to avoid.
During July and August the Regional Health Administration (ARS) of the Algarve and the Portuguese Red Cross operate Postas de Saude (Beach Health Clinics) along the Algarve coast to treat minor injuries, and offer health care advice to beach goers.