Beach safety


Description: These instructions concern the safety of consumers on beaches. In addition to public beaches maintained by municipalities, these instructions apply to public beaches intended for consumers (see Section 2 for more details) and maintained by associations (e.g. village associations and sports clubs) and companies (e.g. campsites and hotels). 
Target groups: These instructions are intended for parties that maintain beaches and provide services on beaches. 
Legislation: These instructions concern the requirements set out in the consumer safety act (920/2011). The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes) monitors compliance with the consumer safety act. Service providers must also identify requirements set out in other acts for their activities and comply with them. In addition to the consumer safety act, provisions on beach safety are laid down in the health protection act (763/1994), the Rescue Act (379/2011), the Public Order Act (612/2003), and the Land Use and Building Act (132/1999).
Notes: Beach areas that are on the land of private natural persons and that are not provided for consumers through business activities (consumer safety act, section 3.2) fall outside the scope of the consumer safety act and these instructions. 
Date: 2 April 2024 
Version: These instructions supersede Tukes’ previous “Beach safety 2020” instructions (dated 30 November 2020).
Register number: Tukes 11554/06.00.01/202

1. Purpose of the instructions

The purpose of these instructions is to help parties that maintain beaches and provide other services on them to ensure that beaches are in compliance with the consumer safety act and are safe for consumers. 

These instructions represent Tukes’ interpretation of how the consumer safety act should be applied to beaches. These instructions are not legally binding. In these instructions, Tukes provides service providers with examples and options for meeting the requirements of the consumer safety act. Obligatory provisions are indicated with references to sections of the consumer safety act. Each service provider is responsible for ensuring that their activities comply with law.

2. Scope of application and the definition of a beach

In these instructions, the term “beach” means a natural or built beach designated for swimming and recreation, as well as intended for public use, for which a service provider which maintains its activities has been assigned. There are different sizes of beaches, with different service and equipment levels.

Regarding swimming and water safety, the consumer safety act and these instructions can also be applied to structures in public beach areas that are intended for swimming or similar water activities and are available to all. Such structures include swimming piers and diving platforms, but not boat docks.

The scope of application of the consumer safety act and these instructions does not cover beach areas where people can swim based on the freedom to roam (e.g. natural lakeshores or public parks with a beach).

Furthermore, the consumer safety act and these instructions do not apply to natural or built beach areas that are located on land owned by private individuals unless they are provided for swimming purposes in business activities (consumer safety act, section 3.2). It is irrelevant whether a beach area owned by a private individual has been designated or intended for public swimming purposes.

These instructions do not cover the quality of swimming water. The health protection act lays down provisions related to it. More information about the quality of swimming water is available from the municipal health protection authorities and the website of the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira)

3. Beach service providers

Service providers must ensure that the beach is safe for users and does not present any risks to users or others (consumer safety act, section 5). Furthermore, service providers must ensure that the beach is equipped with the required information signs and warnings, a notice board and rescue equipment.

Ensuring safety on beaches is based on a thorough risk assessment, the preparation of which is part of service providers’ statutory duty of care. These instructions provide instructions and guidance for the identification of risks.

Ensuring safety on beaches involves various tasks, including the inspection, maintenance and repair of land and water areas and structures, as well as the provision of activities during the swimming season. These tasks may be carried out by several parties. It is important that the party responsible for beach safety as a whole is identified and clearly named. This party is a beach service provider as referred to in the consumer safety act, whose responsibility is to ensure that the beach is safe for users as a whole, the services provided on the beach do not endanger each other’s safety, and shared safety practices have been agreed between all beach service providers. On beaches maintained by a city, for example, the city is responsible for overall safety. Written agreements and a table of responsibilities between the relevant parties help clarify the tasks and responsibilities of the different parties.

Several additional services, including a swimming school and obstacle tracks, may be provided on a single beach. Each service provider must ensure the safety of the service for the provision of which they are primarily responsible. Service providers must cooperate to ensure the safety of beach users. 

4. Safety document

Service providers must prepare a safety document for the beach (consumer safety act, section 7). The safety document is the service provider’s written declaration of how customer safety can be ensured on the beach in practice. The safety document must address all activities on the beach. A separate safety document must be prepared for other services provided on the beach if required, the preparation of which is the responsibility of the provider of the services in question. 

Tukes has prepared a document template to help prepare a safety document. The factors described in these instructions should be taken into account when preparing the safety document.

If a single service provider maintains several beaches, information about several beaches can be presented in a single safety document, as long as it takes the special characteristics of each beach sufficiently into account.

5. Identifying hazards

Service providers must identify all hazards associated with the use of the beach (consumer safety act, section 5). The identification of hazards is an integral part of the preparation and updating of the safety document. In addition to describing the identified hazards in sufficient detail, the safety document must describe the measures that have already been taken to eliminate the identified hazards and a plan for the continuous improvement of safety.

In identifying hazards on beaches, the following must be taken into account in addition to other factors presented in these instructions:

  • How many people use the beach?
  • What is the beach’s customer profile? Are there many special groups or foreign users? Also describe the users’ swimming skills and physical condition.
  • What are the beach’s special characteristics (for example, the length of the shoreline, the depth profile, the clarity of water, currents, navigation routes (see Section 6 for more details))?
  • What factors attract users to the beach (for example, play equipment, a small shop, several residential buildings nearby, public events)?
  • What kinds of structures are there on the beach (for example, changing rooms, other buildings, a pier, steps, a diving tower, and their condition)?
  • What kinds of services are provided on the beach or in its immediate vicinity (for example, equipment renting, guided water services, a swimming school, a sauna, temporary services)?
  • How is the beach used in the evenings and during weekends (for example, any significant vandalism, high-risk behaviour, public disturbances)?
  • What impact does the location of the beach have on safety (for example, delayed arrival of help)?
  • How have the beach’s access routes and traffic arrangements been organised (for example, parking areas, pedestrian routes, maintenance vehicles)?
  • Are there any hazards associated with animals (for example, ticks, snakes or birds)?

In the identification of hazards, hazards that are significant for the beach in question must be described at the level of detail and accuracy in which they actually appear. The forms available on the Tukes website can be used in the identification and description of hazards.

6. Beach inspections and measurements

6.1 Identifying the water area

Identifying the special characteristics of the water area and any hazardous places in it is a key part of the identification of hazards. Identifying the water area when establishing the beach and after any modifications helps the service provider define the boundaries of a safe swimming area and target further inspections correctly. The identification of the water area means examining the bottom by walking up to the swimming depth, defining the beach’s depth profile and identifying any particularly hazardous places (e.g. deep water, large underwater rocks, currents, boats). At the same time, distances between key reference points on the beach should be measured and marked on a map to help lifeguards. Such reference points include piers, buoys, large visible rocks and large trees suitable for positioning.

6.2 Outlining the water area intended for swimming

Service providers must evaluate the need to outline and mark the swimming area based on the identification of hazards and enter the evaluation in the safety document. Outlining the swimming area with floats or ropes increases the safety of swimmers and makes it easier to supervise the beach. It is particularly important to outline the swimming area on beaches that have strong currents or deep water, or that are close to busy boat routes. A shallow area with a level sandy bottom and a maximum depth of 0.5 m can be outlined for small children using ropes or pier structures if required. 

Floats can also be used to mark lanes of a specific length and guide beach users to swim in a supervised area parallel to the shoreline. Floats help lifeguards, as they can better estimate distances and use them as reference points to position swimmers in need of help. Using numbered floats or floats of different colours makes it even easier to position swimmers who need to be rescued and target rescue measures. 

If required, service providers must arrange and mark a separate area for services provided on the beach so that their use does not place the safety of swimmers at risk.

6.3 Continuous inspections of beaches

Service providers must inspect swimming areas, beach areas, information signs, structures and other beach activities before the beginning of the swimming season and at regular intervals during it. Service providers must define inspection practices and intervals for the beach based on the identification of hazards, the services provided, the use of the beach and the amount of vandalism, for example. The more popular and diverse the beach is, the more detailed and frequent the inspections must be. If there are several service providers on the beach, they must agree which service provider carries out the inspections in practice.

Swimming and diving areas must be inspected by walking in the water, dragging or diving in deep water to ensure that the depth is sufficient, and there are no hazardous objects on the bottom. In addition, the sandy area must be inspected, and any hazardous items must be removed.

As the consumer safety act does not separately define the swimming season, service providers must assess when the beach is used and carry out annual inspections accordingly. If required, additional inspections must be carried out after events if it is suspected that hazardous items have ended up in the swimming area.

All beach measurements and inspections should be recorded. The inspection findings must be used to improve safety, update the identification of hazards and plan new safety measures.

6.4 Water depth in diving areas

A beach may include a diving tower or area. It must be located so that diving does not place the safety of divers or other beach users at risk. Service providers must ensure that the depth is always sufficient in the diving area. 

The safe depth depends on the height of the diving platform. The height is measured from the water level upwards. The table below presents indicative minimum values for safe depths in diving areas. They have been determined based on the SFS-EN 13451-10 standard applicable to diving areas in swimming pools, while also addressing the special characteristics of natural waterbodies (e.g. natural variation in the water level).

Table 1. Minimum depth of diving areas on beaches.

Diving platform height (above the water level) Minimum depth
From the water level (e.g. floating platforms) 2 metres
1-3 metres 3,5 metres
5 metres 4 metres
More than 5 metres 4,5 metres

In addition, the depth must be approximately 4 metres when the height of springboards is 1–3 metres.

If the depth is less than 2 metres around a pier or another platform located roughly at the water level, headfirst diving must be prohibited. The prohibition must be clearly visible in the area in which diving is prohibited (e.g. on a pier).

Feetfirst diving is safe from a diving platform at the water level, even if the depth was less than 2 metres. Feetfirst diving should be practised on a beach, as it is an important part of good swimming skills. However, service providers must assess, based on the identification of hazards, whether there are any areas on the beach where no diving can be permitted, regardless of the diving method. Relevant hazards include any underwater rocks near a pier and a rocky bottom.

Service providers must monitor any variation in the water level in diving areas and plan depth measurements in accordance with the special characteristics of the beach. Variation in the water level is affected by the bottom material (e.g. mud, clay, bedrock, sand, rock) and any soil material carried by currents or piled up as a result of dredging. It is recommended that the depth of diving areas be measured at the beginning of the swimming season and as required during it, while also inspecting the bottom for any hazardous objects (see Section 6.3 for more details).

It is particularly important to ensure that, when planning and building a new beach or diving tower and modifying existing diving towers, the indicative depth is reached in a sufficiently large area in front of the diving tower.

6.5 Condition and inspection of structures

Beach structures include information signs and notice boards, piers, play and exercise equipment, slides, changing rooms and other constructions. Beach structures cannot present any hazards (consumer safety act, section 5). Service providers must monitor the use and condition of beach structures and keep maintenance and inspection records on them. Sufficient inspection intervals must be determined based on the number of customers, the condition of the structures and any vandalism, for example. Any defects must be repaired, and structures that have become dangerous must be removed. Inspection and maintenance practices must be described in the safety document.

If a structure cannot be used safely at a certain time due to repairs, for example, when the beach is not supervised or outside the swimming season, its use must be prohibited clearly using a highly visible sign attached to the structure and a boom that prevents access to it. A notification posted on the signboard prohibiting the use of a pier, diving tower, slide or other structure alone is not sufficient. 

7. Lifeguarding on the beach

7.1 Assessing the need for lifeguarding

The risk-based assessment of the need for lifeguarding is part of the service provider’s duty of care (consumer safety act, section 5). Lifeguarding must be arranged on high-risk beaches and beaches with a large number of users throughout the swimming season. Service providers must describe and justify the assessment of the need for lifeguarding in the safety document.

The need for lifeguarding is increased by a large number of users, specific user groups, a diving tower or other place for diving, deep water and play equipment. In addition, events organised close to water and obstacle tracks may increase the need for lifeguarding, to which service providers must react.

The Tukes lifeguarding tool for beaches helps assess the need for lifeguarding. The tool aims to help municipalities and other beach service providers to identify the beaches on which lifeguarding should be seriously considered:

7.2 The number and job description of lifeguards 

The key task of lifeguards is to maintain customer safety on beaches. This includes providing guidance for customers, continuously monitoring the safety situation, preventing hazards, dealing with any hazardous behaviour, and taking effective action in case of an emergency. 

Service providers must ensure that lifeguards can always focus on supervising swimming safety. This should be addressed in assessing the number of lifeguards and defining their job description. 

During slower hours, lifeguards may also carry out other minor tasks (e.g. keeping the beach clean), but these tasks cannot place the supervision of swimming safety at risk.

Lifeguards must be at least 18 years of age. Minors can assist experienced lifeguards aged at least 18, but they cannot be given any responsibility for the safety and rescuing of swimmers.

Service providers must define the number and working hours of lifeguards based on the identification of hazards and the busiest hours on the beach. It is recommended that lifeguards work in pairs. Lifeguards’ breaks must be arranged so that they do not have any adverse impact on lifeguarding. Users should be notified of lifeguarding activities and hours on a notice board on the beach and the website of the party maintaining the beach. Information about any interruptions or changes in lifeguarding hours should also be provided.

On long beaches and beaches divided into several parts, lifeguarding can be limited to specific parts of the beach. The lifeguarded area can be marked using red and yellow flags, for example, and beach users should be notified of the lifeguarded area on notice boards.

Lifeguards need to revise and practise their skills continuously. Slower hours should be used to practise cooperation, simulated emergencies or water rescue.

7.3 Competence requirements for lifeguards

Lifeguards must have water rescue skills and be able to rescue customers in the area in which they work. They must be able to rescue customers from the most challenging locations in their area.

Water rescue skills are presented on the Tukes website. In addition, lifeguards must understand the significance of preventive safety activities (providing customers with guidance and dealing with high-risk behaviour) and customer service skills for customer safety. Lifeguards must be able to take command in drowning situations that require the rapid organisation of a water rescue chain.

Sufficient lifeguard skills can be acquired by completing lifeguard training or an international lifeguard course. The competence requirements defined for these courses can also be used to define the skills required from lifeguards. If required, service providers must verify the skills of lifeguards in practice through demonstrations or by assigning lifeguards initially as assistants of more experienced lifeguards.

Service providers must describe the skills required from lifeguards and the practices used to maintain their skills in the beach safety document.

If required, service providers must provide lifeguards with training regarding their tasks and induction regarding the beach’s hazards, water area, safety practices and other special characteristics.

8. Beach rescue equipment and lifeguard equipment

Service providers must define the rescue equipment available on the beach, the equipment used by lifeguards and their maintenance practices in the safety document. 

Rescue equipment must be available on beaches. The minimum requirement is a lifebuoy, rope or similar rescue equipment in good condition located in a visible place close to water. Rescue equipment must be available in appropriate locations, in sufficient numbers and at sufficiently frequent intervals relative to the identified hazards.

It is recommended to arrange a specific location (e.g. a covered platform) and rescue buoys for lifeguards on supervised beaches. Lifeguards must wear clothing that helps them clearly stand out from others on the beach such as red and yellow clothes with a lifeguard badge. Lifeguards must have first aid kits available to them. In addition, service providers can define rescue equipment that are only available to lifeguards (e.g. rescue buoys) and other equipment required for the quality of lifeguards’ work and their coping at work.

9. Providing information for customers

Beach service providers must provide users with relevant information about the safe use of the beach (consumer safety act, section 9). Safety information can be provided on a website, on notice boards and using information signs, prohibitions and other markings attached to beach structures. In the safety document, service providers must define what information will be provided for users and how. The comprehensive identification of hazards and a good knowledge of the special characteristics and user groups of the beach form the basis of planning the information provided for users and the ways of providing information.

Each beach must be equipped with a notice board, which indicates the name, street address and location information, contact information of the party maintaining the beach, instructions for calling for help and notifying the party maintaining the beach of any irregularities in terms of safety and information of any lifeguarding (e.g. boundaries of the supervised area, lifeguarding hours).

A good practice for notice boards is a map, which includes information about the water depths and relevant objects on the beach.

10. Accident records and reports

Parties maintaining beaches must maintain records of near-miss incidents and accidents occurred during the provision of services (customer safety act, section 5). They can maintain accident records in the manner they deem best. Information about the party to which safety observations and incidents can be reported should be provided for beach users on the notice board. The information collected must be used to improve service safety (e.g. by planning measures to prevent similar or repeated near-miss incidents in certain locations). More information and an Excel form, which can be used as a template for accident records, are available on the Tukes website

Serious accidents and near-miss incidents must be reported to Tukes (e.g. drowning or a demanding rescue of a swimmer under water). Reporting is a statutory obligation for service providers (consumer safety act, section 8). The safety document must define how reports should be made, and who is responsible for making them. The Tukes website offers more information about when such reports must be made. Reports can be submitted in electronic format on the Tukes website or by emailing [email protected].

Further information

Contact information of Tukes specialists by service type is available on the Tukes website.