DCR Beaches Hotline: 617-626-4972
blue flag OK for swimming
red flag Warning: No swimming, potential health risks.
DCR is the largest provider of recreational swimming opportunities in Massachusetts, serving millions of visitors each year at more than 80 designated fresh or saltwater beaches. Clean water is essential to safe swimming, and the agency follows standards and procedures established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to ensure that all public swimming beaches meet bacteria-related water quality requirements. Bacteria can be introduced into swimming waters through a variety of sources, and rainstorms can significantly increase the amount of bacteria present. DCR tests all designated beaches on a weekly basis, as required by the MDPH and tests several of its beaches surrounding Boston Harbor on a daily basis.
DCR utilizes a system of flagging and signage to communicate water quality warnings to the public. DCR posts blue flags on lifeguard stands, contact stations, and main entry points when beach waters test within established limits. When beach waters exceed established limits, the agency flies red flags and posts signage warning the public of the potentially hazardous condition. In addition, agency lifeguards patrol the beach to personally communicate the warning to the public.
While DCR does not prohibit access to posted beaches, the public must avoid water contact (including wading) when beaches are posted and flying the red flags. Contact with contaminated waters may cause illness. Normally, bacteria levels are elevated for only a matter of hours or days. DCR repeats the sampling and testing procedures on subsequent days until beach waters are again within established limits and the blue flags can again welcome swimmers.