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Blue Flags (Beach Quality)

Foundation for Environmental Education

Last modified: 2023-11-25 by zachary harden
Keywords: blue flag | beach quality | fee | feee |
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[generic Blue Flag]
image by Jorge Candeias

See also:

Other sites:

The European Blue Flag program

The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation consisting of Member organisations representing 25 European countries.
The program of the European Blue Flag has been working since 15 years.
The countries participating to the program are:

Belgium | Bulgaria | Croatia | Cyprus | Denmark | Estonia | Finland | France | Germany | Greece | Ireland | Italy | Latvia | Lithuania | Netherlands | Norway | Portugal | Slovenia | South Africa | Spain | Sweden | Turkey | United Kingdom

More than 2,400 beaches and marinas are now participating in the programme.
Iceland, Romania, Morocco, Montenegro and the Caribbean are working on establishing the Blue Flag Campaign.
Santiago Tazon & Jan Mertens, 19 June 2003

A booklet published the Blue Flag Organization says that the "Blue Flag campaign started in Europe in 1987 with the purpose of encouraging beaches to comply with the EU Bathing Water Directive", and that the project has developed ever since, and as of 2005 the Foundation for Environmental Education, the campaign's managing organization, includes members in 38 countries and an International Jury with representatives of:
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
International Lifesaving Federation (ILS)
International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA)
World Conservation Union (IUCN)
European Union for coastal Conservation (EUCC)
Environmental Education Expert
It is a "symbol of quality recognized by tourists and tour operators", and therefore it is not a signal flag, but an award flag. Still according to the booklet, as "of 2006 there were over 3200 sites awarded with the Blue Flag in 36 countries including countries in Europe, countries in the Caribbean, Morocco, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa."
A previous edition stated that as "of 2005 there were over 3000 sites awarded with the Blue Flag in 33 countries including 26 countries in Europe, countries in the Caribbean, Morocco, Canada and South Africa". However, at, it says that the Blue Flag was "awarded in 2007 to more than 3200 beaches and marinas in 37 countries across Europe, Morocco, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the Caribbean". Note removal and re-addition of New Zealand; cf.
The criteria for awarding the Blue Flag are updated yearly, "designed to work with the relevant national, regional and local legislation of each country", and have been "adapted and expanded to encompass issues encountered in areas outside of Europe", covering issues of beach and marina "environmental information and education, water quality, safety and services and environmental management", says the booklet. Some of these criteria, namely those concerning safety and area uses, may concern the use of signal flags, but the booklet does not expressly mentions that aspect. In countries or regions with where beach safety regulations prescribe flag usage, then the Blue Flag can only be awarded to beaches using them accordingly.
According to the booklet, candidate beach and marinas that "have been accepted by the International Jury are awarded with the Blue Flag for one season". These candidates are pre-reviewed by each national jury yearly; the International Jury meets twice a year to review applications from different areas of the world. The booklet also states that "Control visits are made during the Blue Flag season by both national and international controllers to assure that all criteria are being met. If problems are found the flag is withdrawn until they are fixed. If the problem is very serious or if the problem is not fixed within a given period of time then the flag is withdrawn for the rest of the season."
António Martins, 12 September 2007

The FEE just e-mailed me to tell that the Blue Flag is not limited to marine sites. Sites at lakes and rivers are awarded as well, but with the limitation already mentioned: they have to apply for it themselves.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 September 2007

As that's the same year as the specimen in Sneek, which has just a single year, I asked why Water-sports Zwartsluis (in Zwartsluis) had a double year version, and they told me: This is because they are open all year. Of course, this is not yet the whole story, so I'll try to get more information from the FEE. I expect quite a few town/city harbours in The Netherlands are open all year, simply because nobody ever came up with the idea to lock them down. Yet, I think this is the first time I see a double year version in The Netherlands, so there must be more to it. If I learn more about it, I'll let you know. In the mean time, the Zwartsluis version is a clear indication of the size of the flag. (I know the size, but from my photographs it's not all that visible that the flag is human-sized.)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 3 June 2023

The Blue Flag

The Blue Flag is awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEEE).
The Blue Flag is a widely recognised eco-label. This is awarded to beaches and marinas where environmental protection is a high priority in site management and information encourages care for the environment.
The award of the Blue Flag is presently based on 27 specific criteria for beaches and 16 specific criteria for marinas. Though the specific requirements are different for the two types of sites, they cover the same four aspects:

  • Water Quality
  • Environmental Education and Information
  • Environmental Management
  • Safety and Services

Some criteria are imperative whereas other are guideline criteria.
All Blue Flags are only awarded for one season at a time. By renewing the award each season the Campaign ensures that the beaches and marinas are constantly living up to the criteria. If some of the imperative criteria are not fulfilled during the season or the conditions change, the Blue Flag will be withdrawn.
Pascal Gross
, 14 August 2000

The blue flag started out in France in 1985, under the initiative of a few French coastal municipalities. In 1987, the Blue Flag Campaign was officially launched by the European Commission, under proposition (and management) of the FEEE, within the activities of the European Year of the Environment, that happened that year. In that first year there were 10 countries participating in the campaign and the flag was flown from 244 beaches and 208 marinas. At first, the criteria for the attribution of blue flags varied from country to country, but in 1992 the criteria were made uniform and the Campaign started using the restrictive guideline values in the EEC Bathing Water Directive. With globalization, the criteria diverged again. They are uniform in each geographic region where the campaign is implemented, but they differ from region to region. In 2004, 2333 beaches and 605 marinas flew the blue flag in 29 countries from Europe, the Caribbean and South Africa. Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Barbados, Morocco and Poland are about to join this group of countries.
The flag started its career as a purely European symbol, though, and at first it was a simple white logo on blue field as shown by the image at the top of this page. But the need to identify the year each flag led to changes in the design of the flag. Its basic elements remained (the logo and the colours), but some secondary elements were added.
Jorge Candeias
, 13 May 2005

Variants of the Blue Flag

[2000 Blue Flag] image by Jorge Candeias

Note that the flag, as the example shown on the top of this page (after a picture published in 20 Minutes, French edition, on 12 May 2002) should have inscribed in white characters in the canton the year for which it was granted and in the lower hoist the acronym Feee [or Fee] and copyright sign. That is because the flag is granted for one year only, and the next year the competition starts anew.
In Croatia the year is written with a dot after the year (e.g. 2002.), which is the grammatical proper form in Croatian.
Only the flags that are really hoisted on the beaches and other appropriate sites contain the year and acronym. Small table flags seen in hotel receptions and such places, as well as most of the promotional posters explaining the flag, do not contain those numbers/acronym.
Željko Heimer, 22 May 2002

[2005 Blue Flag] image by Jorge Candeias

The Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe morphed into the Foundation for Environmental Education in order to accommodate non-European countries. The abbreviation therefore has reduced to Fee on the flag.
Ivan Sache, 30 May 2005

[1989 Blue Flag] image by Jorge Candeias, 24 March 2006

An earlier version of the FEEE beach quality blue flag.  The Público newspaper published in July 29, 2003 an archive photo of one of these flags flying. The photo shows what appears to be the reverse side of the flag. The numbers are mirrored, the logo is just as mirrored, etc. I wouldn't be so sure, however: the photo could have been mirrored to fit better in the design of that newspaper page. Anyway, this pretty much confirms my memory: the circle of stars is there, the numbers are very much like the ones I drew. The colour is still uncertain, though, since this photo is black and white, and the stars are upright.
Jorge Candeias
, 14 November 2005, 24 March 2006

I can confirm the existence of this flag with a "2007" on it.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 September 2007

picture taken by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 June 2022

An even more recent version of the Blue Flag, the text "FEE" and the copyright symbol have been removed from the bottom left of the flag. The bottom left text has been removed from flags (at least) since 2010.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 June 2022 and Zachary Harden, 03 July 2022

The Blue Pennant

[1989 Blue Flag pennant]image by Jorge Candeias and António Martins-Tuválkin, 18 September 2007

Starting 2003, individual boat owners can earn a Blue Pennant. First in Belgium is Ms. Elisabeth Lemmens of the Antwerp Willemdok yacht harbour. I saw this pennant very briefly on TV news. A Blue Flag costs 125 euros whereas a Blue Pennant costs 8 euros.
Jan Mertens
, 19 June 2003

The FEE booklet on page 9 describes the Individual Blue Flag for Boat Owners campaign. The flag is a triangular version of the beach/marina flag, lacking the FEE logo and the year. The dimensions of the pennant seem to be ~24×36 cm ( At, the suggested specs are 2:3 with white disc half the flag's height.

Unlike the "real" FEE Blue Flag, this is not an award, as the boats using it do not need to present an application and wait for a national, then international, jury decision, nor are they subject to reviews or control visits. If one wants a flag for one's boat, one just buys it. Upon buying the Blue Flag for individual boat owners, one must sign a code of conduct that covers the same kind of safety and environmental concerns as the beach/marina flag award (things like not throwing garbage into the sea, etc.). The booklet doesn't say what happens if a violation of the code of conduct is reported or witnessed.
António Martins, 18 September 2007

35th Anniversary flag

image located by Zachary Harden, 03 July 2022

In an article by The Irish Examiner, there is a young man holding this special flag to honor the 35th anniversary of the Blue Flag project on one of the awarded beaches in Ireland. It is the main blue flag, with the anniversary logo at the top left hoist.
Zachary Harden, 03 July 2022