French Swim and Beach Rules – What you might need to know

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French Swim and Beach Rules - what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Some rules may surprise you but in France there is a good lifeguard service. Laws are set both nationally and locally. At swimming pools there are commonly some rules about swimwear and suncream. Read more on the blog.You don’t really need to know a lot before setting off for the beach or swimming pool in France but they do have some rules that may surprise you. It’s best to be prepared. I get the impression that French people spend a lot more time at the beach than we do. Not only do they have a lot of lovely coastline but also the weather is just that bit better. (Okay! Quite a lot better!)

Lifeguards and “baignade surveillee”

Public beaches have monitoring stations and may display flags. Many of those beaches also have a lifeguard station in the summer and this makes sea-bathing in France feel a lot safer. The flag system is three colours.

Green flag means “safe to swim”

Yellow flag means “not recommended but monitored”

Red flag means “bathing forbidden”

On these beaches you may only swim between the blue flags set out by the lifeguards.

Lifeguards will select a blue-flagged area unaffected by dangers like rip-currents. Personally I trust them to know! If you try to swim just next to the lifeguarded area you will get shouted at, it’s really not allowed. On a large beach you could swim at your own risk further away and you will be left alone by the lifeguards. Outside these monitored areas you may find surf schools and water sports which have their own permissions. In some places lifeguard stations do not open until afternoon but I can’t complain because it’s such a brilliant safety service.

French Swim and Beach Rules, what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Sign board at a French beach. Map with legend showing lifeguard and watersports areas.

National laws or By-laws

Under French national law most beaches ban smoking (often flouted), alcohol, fishing and wood fires.  Some town halls have banned barbeques at local beaches. If there’s nothing on the beach display board or if you’re not sure about a rule, it’s best to ask at the local tourist information office or town hall (la mairie). In theory if there’s no sign at the beach they can’t enforce a fine, but I don’t recommend that you have this argument.

We visited La Baule beach which had signposts for “no picnics” and “no cycling”, but everyone was eating and a bike zipped right by us. Then we got out a kite and the lifeguard told us kites were forbidden on La Baule for safety reasons, despite there being no signpost. The beach was nearly empty and there was no particular danger from using a kite but I do admit that La Baule would normally be packed. The lifeguard did helpfully tell us that nearby La Turballe beach did allow kites so next day we went there. Slightly irritating but never mind!

French Swim and Beach Rules, what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Advice sign board at a French beach in English and French. Beach and water safety.

Swimwear – the beach

France has been making laws about clothes for centuries and this sort of thing comes as no surprise to the locals. However it really raises British hackles! There aren’t really very many rules, although they can be amended with local by-laws. You’re not allowed to wear clothing on a nudist beach, but there’s plenty of signage so you’re unlikely to fall foul of this rule. I suppose it wouldn’t be very fair on the naturists if people in clothes were there too.  On all other beaches it is illegal to “bathe without a swimsuit or other nautical combination”. So no swimming in your clothes, and no skinny-dipping either. It’s not unusual for women to go topless, but it’s less common to see naked toddlers as you might do in the UK.

Burkini

To date only a few dozen local mayors have imposed by-laws banning the burkini on beaches. Laws banning religious attire of all types exist in various places in France such as schools. France is a firmly secular republic with a very high proportion of athiests and the law-makers reflect this. The enforcing of the burkini ban has been a shocking thing to witness on the news. It looks like these rules may develop over time with political pressure.

French beach rules lifeguard flags, beach monitoring station report

Swimming pools

Men are not allowed to wear baggy swimming trunks or board shorts at most swimming pools and water parks, especially on campsites. You can wear Speedos or the slightly more flattering “Daniel Craig Speedos” and longer leg shorts if they are skin-tight. Why? Well, the reason usually given is hygiene, because board shorts look like normal clothes and may be worn for other activities. They may get all dusty and then go in the pool. Also these shorts will easily balloon in waterslides, which would hurt. Some British swimming schools ban these baggy shorts because they are too loose for lessons. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at the French rule. Try to buy men’s swimwear before you jump on your ferry to France, as poolside prices are high.

Pool hygiene rules may also mean that you are banned from applying suncream before swimming. They don’t want an oil slick on the water. I’d suggest you apply suncream 20 minutes before going to the pool and it should all sink in. I saw plenty of people flout this rule on holiday this year; no-one wants sunburn.

Blog falcondalelife French Swim and Beach Rules - what you might need to know. French swimming pool rules about swimwear, especially for men. Also rules about suncream are common. Read more on the blog.

Dogs

Dogs are generally banned from French beaches but out of season they are sometimes permitted. Read the display board at the beach to find out. You should assume there is a ban unless told otherwise, as this is a national law. British dog owners may find this disappointing but there are many coastal paths instead. French dog owners do not pick-up as much as the British, so it’s a worthwhile ban.

Have you encountered any strange bans or permissions at pools or beaches in France?

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See ideas of places to visit in France on my Pinterest board.

Disclaimer: This blog does not include any legal advice. 


 

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15 Comments

  1. Seth(molly) Lawson
    22nd August 2017 / 3:51 pm

    I a man a transgender 12 year old and I’m going to Euro camp next year with my family and in all the pictures of the place park we are staying at everyone was wearing shorts and tops in the pool when it said it’s banned so I am going to wear shorts and a swim top/binder because I have a reason. I think it should not be banned because of some people’s needs etc

  2. Cynthia Gault
    8th August 2017 / 4:48 pm

    Regarding the swimwear fixation, some little boys can be quite modest, and don’t want to wear revealing trunks – some husbands too! I don’t think that swimming shorts can be as troublesome as long hair (or hairs) in a pool, but no-one seems to mind about that. I do think that it’s time that the French abandoned this unconvincing argument about ‘hygiene’. It has put us off French campsites, and we go to the river now to swim.

  3. 26th April 2017 / 3:49 pm

    Men’s shorts Hubby really wouldn’t look good in a pair of speedos so that rules out a visit to centreparcs in France

  4. 9th November 2016 / 12:44 pm

    Guests (both personal and in my gite) are always surprised and amused by the shorts rule and I must say even after 19 years here I still think it’s utterly ridiculous. However, lie Curtis I appreciate the well patrolled and clean beaches. This is a great resource for foreigners wanting to swim in France. Thanks for linking it to #AllAboutFrance, hope to see you again, the next one is….TOMORROW! (Yes I’m running very behind with my reading!)

    • 14th November 2016 / 7:27 pm

      I much prefer the French attitude to beach patrols! Thanks for reminding of the link-up.

  5. 19th October 2016 / 12:00 pm

    I had heard about men’s swimming short rules before and at the time was most surprised. Thanks for all your further information. On our trips to France over the last seven years it has not been hot enough to swim, but I am now prepared… thanks for your post. Annette #AllAboutFrance

    • 19th October 2016 / 1:06 pm

      You’re welcome! I hope your next trip has good weather.

  6. 11th October 2016 / 11:19 am

    Like Britain, France has created more and more rules over the years. Swimming is perhaps one area where the rules seem to be mostly respected – they take their beaches seriously. When I first arrived, you could swim anywhere on the beaches of the Landes, which I happily did until I almost drowned. Fortunately, they don’t allow that any more – a crowded beach is a small price to pay for staying alive.

    • 11th October 2016 / 12:07 pm

      Yes the safety measures are very different to the UK. I envy them! The authorities in France are prepared to take steps to improve safety, but I find in the UK the authorities are more fatalistic.

  7. 11th October 2016 / 6:51 am

    In Normandy, where I live there are some beaches that allow dogs all year round and most allow them early in the morning and in the evening. But then there are the French who ignore the rules anyway and there are always a number of dogs on the beaches even where they are not supposed to be. As for the burkini – I am waiting to see what will happen next summer. It wasn’t an issue up here in the North thank goodness although it fuelled many a dinner party debate. #AllABoutFrance

    • 11th October 2016 / 8:28 am

      I love Normandy, my big sister’s family lived there 10 years and I spent most school holidays there but we never spent enough time on beaches to suit me. We did all like Etretat though!

  8. 13th September 2016 / 10:24 am

    Fascinating! I never knew baggy men’s shorts weren’t allowed. A family on one of our campsites said they’d been told off for carrying a barbeque down to the beach one evening – you’re right, it’s worth checking out the local rules before you make plans.

    • 13th September 2016 / 1:17 pm

      If nothing else, it saves a few blushes! Thank-you.

  9. 4th September 2016 / 8:28 am

    Very interesting post, thanks for all of that!

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