Outer Banks Beach Safety
Swimming in the Ocean
To avoid trouble while swimming in the ocean:
- Never swim alone
- Choose a beach with a lifeguard on duty
- Do not swim within 300ft of fishing piers
- Inexperienced swimmers should stay in wading deep waters
- Keep an eye on children at all times
Always take Red Flags seriously. Red Flags on the beach indicate that ocean conditions are not safe for swimming, and all forms of water activity are prohibited. Entry in the water while Red Flags are flown is considered a misdemeanor and can result in a maximum fine of $500 or up to thirty days imprisonment. Surfboards at least five feet in length and equipped with a leash are exempt.
Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore and account for over 80% of ocean rescues. Rip currents can sometimes be identified by a noticeable difference in water color, a gap in the breaking waves, a channel of churning choppy water, or a line of sea foam, seaweed, or debris steadily floating out to sea. Often there is no apparent indication of rip currents, which magnifies their hazard. If you get caught in a rip current:
- Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current then swim towards shore.
- If you can’t get out of the current, let it take you out past the breakers and then swim diagonally toward the shore.
- Never swim against the current.
- If you see someone caught in a rip current, do not become a victim too. Instead throw them something that floats like a lifejacket, cooler, or inflatable ball and get a lifeguard or call 911.
Lifeguards are stationed at certain public accesses throughout the area from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Most beaches also have roving lifeguards on ATVs. Visit our Beach Access page to locate lifeguard stations. Please be aware that lifeguarded locations are subject to change without notice. Visit OuterBanks.org for the most current information.
Sun and Heat Protection
Blue skies and sunny days at the beach are the perfect ingredients for a great vacation. However, if you aren’t careful, the summer sun can be too much of a good thing. The sun’s rays are especially intense during summer months and are further intensified by the reflection off the ocean and sand. Follow these tips to avoid sun damage and heat-related illness:
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 at all times when outdoors and reapply frequently, especially after swimming.
- Remember that you can still get sunburned on cloudy days.
- Avoid overexposure to the sun and heat, especially during the hours between Noon and 3PM.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Be observant of children and older adults - their bodies don’t regulate temperature as efficiently, and they may not realize they are getting sunburned until it’s too late.
Jellyfish are most commonly found in warm waters like those of the Outer Banks in the late summer months. They can be difficult to distinguish when swimming in water due to their transparent bodies and can sting if touched even when washed ashore. Jellyfish stings occur from contact with the tentacles and typically result in red welts, stinging, and itching.
If you are stung by a jellyfish:
- Wash the affected area with seawater (do not use freshwater)
- Soak with white vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes, and take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- If you experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, or other severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.