Public Beaches


What is a Public Beach?

A public beach is defined as a beach owned/operated by a municipality which the general public has access to, and where there is reason to believe that there is recreational use of the water (sectioned off swimming area, water safety/rescue equipment, lifeguard chairs etc.), which may result in waterborne illness or injury as determined by the local medical officer of health.


Why monitor public beaches?

Beaches are monitored to determine the level of risk posed by the recreational water to the users of the beach.


What are those signs at the beach?

An educational program was implemented in 2004 with the use of permanent signs. The current signs reads:

“Water Quality Information: Caution: Avoid swimming for at least 24 hours after heavy rainfall: Heavy rainfall and cloudy water caused by wave action increases bacteria levels in this water.”

The signs explain the relationship between heavy rainfall and turbid (cloudy) water with increased counts of E. coli. Conditions can change at any time. These signs give the swimmer the opportunity to assess the current conditions and make an informed decision on use of the beach.


What is monitored?

Samples are taken to determine levels of E. Coli in the water. Knowing these results helps beach managers assess the conditions at their beach. The levels can also help the public assess the safety of a beach although it should be noted that conditions change rapidly and that the results only represent conditions at the time of sampling. 

The environmental conditions at the time of sampling are also noted. These include rainfall (current or recent), turbidity and wave action. A visual check of other factors is also carried out. This includes the presence of large numbers of bathers, any physical debris on the beach, fish die-off and the presence of larger numbers of animals or birds.


How often are the beaches sampled?

Samples are obtained every second week during the main summer season (late June to Labour Day). Samples may be taken by Public Health staff or the beach owners.


How are the beach samples taken?

Water samples are obtained using beach sampling bottles provided by a public health laboratory of the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (OAHPP). The samples are usually taken within the swimming area; every attempt is made to take the sample approximately 15 cm to 30 cm below the surface in about 1 m to 1.5 m depth of water. The sample bottle is sealed immediately and remains sealed until received by the provincial laboratory for analysis.


What is the water sample analyzed for?

The provincial laboratory analyzes each sample for the number of E. coli bacteria present per 100 mL of water. E. coli is used as the indicator bacteria because it is an indicator of fecal pollution. A geometric mean (typical value) is calculated to reduce the biasing effect of a single high sample; although a single high reading will still be investigated.


When are beaches posted?

Beaches are posted if the Health Unit believes that there may be a risk to the public. This decision is based on E Coli results and other factors such as the environmental conditions at the time of sampling.

Posting of a beach occurs by placing signs to inform the public about potential risks to the health and safety based on an assessment of those risks. Posting signs are displayed in prominent positions at the beach to warn bathers of the danger. The signs will normally remain posted at the beach until monitoring of water quality demonstrates that the risk to bathers is once again within acceptable limits.

For more information regarding the monitoring of public bathing beaches, please contact Public Health at 376-9420 or 1-800-263-3456.


Beach Warning Sign

Note: Beaches are only monitored for E. coli levels; there may be other harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites in the water.



When using any beach it is wise to assess the risk before entering the water. You can assess the water yourself by answering the following four simple questions in combination with the latest beach sampling results

Check the following to make sure it is safe:

  •  Has there been heavy rain in the last 24 to 48 hours?  If yes, bacterial levels will be higher and swimming is not recommended.
  •  Are the waves and currents safe?  Rip currents, undertows and heavy wave action increase risk to swimmers. Signs, websites, written material, etc. may give more information and indicate the presence of these risks.
  •  Is the water cloudy?  If you can’t see your feet when standing waist deep bacterial levels may be higher and swimming is not recommended.
  •  Are there any other problems with the beach?  Large numbers of waterfowl, dead fish, algae/scum, dangerous debris, Municipal or Health Unit warnings/postings all indicate increased health risk.  


Beach Safety

Entrance to Sauble Beach

Key Messages

Always swim with a “buddy”. In case of emergency, someone is available to help you. Have a cell phone nearby.

Lifejackets are Life Savers. Young children under 5 years of age and weak swimmers should wear them when they are in or around the water.

Don’t swim if you have been drinking alcohol

Supervise your children and keep them "within arms reach” 



Recent beach samples (the latest results for all sampled beaches in Grey and Bruce counties)

Weather forecast Environment Canada


Fact Sheets

Blue Green Algae – Information for Cottagers and Homeowners

Foaming of Surface Waters

Swimmer’s Itch

Swimming in Surface Waters

Yellow Scum Phenomena

Beach Management Protocol


Healthy Lake Huron


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