Sailing Guide Sections

Vacationers will notice a handful of sailboats at every local Outer Banks port, either saddled up to the docks or breezing across the harbor, en route to the nearest sound for a cruise, or to the continent-spanning Intracoastal Waterway to continue a long coastal voyage. Some vacationers are even in it for the long haul, docking for a summer or a winter season at a number of local marinas that offer all the comforts of home. Clearly, sailing lovers of all varieties have plenty of options, but even newcomers to the sport can experiment with life on the water with a local sailing lesson, rental, or waterfront cruise.

Heading to Silver Lake in Ocracoke

Plan a lazy sailing afternoon on your vacation, or take your boat with you for an extended waterfront stay, and enjoy a taste of Outer Banks Life on the water.

The Intracoastal Waterway

Explore any coastal area of North Carolina and you'll likely find a dock or a bridge that borders the Atlantic and Gulf Coast's Intracoastal Waterway. This channel of water can comprise of narrow manmade canals, salty rivers, and wide natural sounds, as it travels for over 3,000 miles along the coastline. The waterway is essentially a nationwide navigation route for commercial barges and pleasure vessels alike, providing an easy way to access a large number of Eastern American's busiest southern cities and ports.

What started as an idea to improve navigation for commercial shipping in the early 1800s and 1810s has become a federally maintained instrumental route to both shipping companies and sailing enthusiasts. Running from the Manasquan River in New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico territory in Brownsville, Texas, the route is well-known and well-traveled by experienced sailors who want to explore every nook and cranny of the East of Gulf Coast.

In North Carolina, sailors can enter the state through two different canals, the Dismal Swamp Canal, the smaller original 1820s channel of the Intracoastal Waterway, or the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal, which was created just 30 years later to accommodate larger, (specifically wider), ships barreling through the waterway. From there, it's an easy sail through the wide-open Albemarle Sound with distant views of the Currituck Outer Banks.

The Intracoastal Waterway then strays from the 30+ mile wide Pamlico Sound. A rough storm can make this large body of water choppy, and with an inconsistently shallow bottom, with some waters even in the very center of the Pamlico Sound being 5 ft.' deep or less, being stranded on a sandbar is always a possibility. Instead, the waterway snakes through mainland Dare and Hyde Counties, easing its way through a series of well-tended channels to Beaufort and Cape Lookout, and continuing to border the Southern North Carolina coast all the way through the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

Along the Dare County and Currituck County section, mariners will find tons of harbor front stores, marinas, harbors, and even restaurants, making a rest stop to relax and admire the scenery an easy affair. The area may be not be the most populated of Intracoastal channels, but is certainly one of the most scenic with front-row views of the Great Dismal Swamp, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and right-off-the-boat access to some of the best seafood restaurants and scenic soundfront sunset locales around.

Sailors who are exploring the entire length of the waterway from New England to Texas, or simple sailing enthusiasts who just want a long, enjoyable cruise, will find the Intracoastal Waterway portions of the Outer Banks, or rather the Inner Banks, a fascinating way to get a new perspective of the islands.

A sailboat adjacent to Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Sailing the Sounds

While sections of the local Outer Banks sounds may be notoriously shallow, the water is wide open for sailboats, as the same areas that can accommodate kayaks and fishing skiffs can easily accommodate small sailboats as well.

Some of the most popular launching points are located in Manteo and Ocracoke, although virtually any expanse of soundfront that includes a boat ramp or harbor can serve as a departure port. Manteo's historic downtown is always busy with sailing activity, and Ocracoke Harbor is also a popular spot, and sailboats can consistently be seen cruising in and out of the clam-shaped waterfront of Ocracoke Village.

Mariners should pay special attention to shifts in depth, which can occur at any random spot in the sound, and is typically as visible as a wide change of color in the water. Also, use extreme caution when navigating the inlets of the Outer Banks, specifically Oregon Inlet, Hatteras Inlet and Ocracoke Inlet. All three inlets provide vital passageways to incoming and outgoing charter or fishing boats, and the Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets in particular can be particularly dangerous as they serve as right-of-ways to the North Carolina State's ferries. Use caution, and tread slowly, so as to avoid encounters with other passing, larger vessels.

Ocracoke Harbor

In addition, sailors will want to load up on sunscreen, as the North Carolina sun can beat hard against the clear blue water. And while sailors do trek out to the oceanside to skim the coastline, this is an exercise best left to experienced sailors, as the ocean waves can be both treacherous and unpredictable.

With these safety concerns in mind, feel free to go forth and explore. The sounds of the Outer Banks, specifically the Albemarle, Roanoke, Currituck and Pamlico Sounds, offer a world of treasures. Mariners can expect to find brilliant sunsets on a nightly basis, passing pelicans and great blue herons mid-flight, and small pods of porpoises cruising by. In essence, a sailboat cruise along the local sound can be a thrilling, relaxing, and positively Outer Banks experience.

Sailing lessons, rentals and sales

The love of sailing is evident on the Outer Banks, from the cluster of colorful sailboats that can be found at any local harbor, to the locals who live aboard their sailboat and carve out a salty life on the water. While many visitors may not want to embark on the sailing life for the long haul, at least not right away, newbies to the OBX will find plenty of ways to get in the water, despite their sailing experience.

When it comes to learning the ropes, there are plenty of opportunities around every waterfront canal. A number of instructors and classrooms dedicated to the art of sailing can be found throughout the Outer Banks, such as the Outer Banks Sailing Academy, based in Manteo. Here, long or short-term visitors can take 3-4 day classes and emerge themselves in the sport, from obtaining a Basic Keelboat Sailing Certificate to working towards a Coastal Cruising Certificate. Depending on the course, holding one of these two certificates may be a pre-requisite, but a number of fundamental classes, like Small Boat Sailing or Basic Coastal Cruising will generally have no experience required except for an enthusiasm for learning.

Nor' Banks Sailing, located in the town of Duck, also offers sailing lessons, including a group "Welcome to Sailing!" course that covers the basics in a two-hour session, The company also provides private lessons that can be custom-tailored to any individual sailor's needs, whether it's trying out a new boat, or getting a grip on advanced boat handling.

Local Watersports legend Kitty Hawk Kites also offers 2 hour beginning sailing lessons for 1-2 people that will introduce new sailors to the basic rigging and maneuvering of a Hobie Cat sailboat, one of the easier and smaller types of sailboats available for new students.

With any local sailing lesson, class, or in-depth tutorial, all sailing equipment is provided, from the sailboat itself to the life jackets, so all a student has to do is bring along some comfortable, (and water-friendly), clothes and some sunscreen. 3-4 day seminars and classes will require reservations well in advance, but can easily be booked by phone, email or online before your Outer Banks vacation.

The same sailing establishments that feature lessons also provide sailboat rentals for an afternoon, a full day, or even a week. The rental provider's staff can also provide advice on the best launching points and places to sail. For long term commitments, a number of watersports companies along the beach offer sail sales, and the more extensive marina boat shops and dealers along the Inner Banks of the Currituck and Dare County mainland have extensive selections as well as gently-used sailboats for sale. In short, just miles, if not feet, from the Intracoastal Waterway, sailors will have plenty of opportunities to upgrade their coastal ride.

Sailboat docked in Avon Harbor

Local marinas and ports of call

There are a number of marinas on the Outer Banks where passing sailors can pull up and stay for a night a week, a month, or even a year, and enjoy access to a world of amenities and all the comforts of home. Many local marinas offer electric and cable hook-ups, laundry facilities, Wi-Fi or other internet access, and even on-site restaurants, grocery stores, and ship's stores to refuel on much needed supplies.

For sailors just passing through the islands, there are a few Outer Banks areas that are definitely worth a trip, for both the scenic Outer Banks landscape, as well as the bustling activity that can be found around the town.

Anchored in Shallowbag Bay, Manteo

The Historic Downtown Waterfront of Manteo is ideal for passing sailors, as the stretch of dock located in front of the town features a wide array of restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall local favorites to upscale soundfront fine dining establishments. In addition, passing mariners will find a number of shops, antique stores, ship's stores, and local attractions, all within the tiny mile-long waterfront border. For a port with plenty of activity, Manteo's waterfront is certainly hard to beat.

The town of Avon has its own unique secret destination bordering the Pamlico Sound. Historic Avon Village is a small residential community with dozens of historic homes dating back to the early 1900s, a small collection of locally owned gift stores, and miles of soundfront sunsets. The small Avon harbor provides dockage for passing sailors, and step-off-the-boat access to one of the best seafood "shops" on the island, Avon Seafood's waterfront commercial docks. Here, sailors can purchase fresh shrimp, scallops, and seafood literally minutes after they're hauled off the boat.

Heading into Pamlico Sound

Ocracoke Island's harbor may be the most popular scenic pit stop for passing mariners, as the harbor features a semi-circle of renowned restaurants, inns, bed and breakfasts, art galleries, and gift shops. Anchored sailors will find no shortage of historical and cultural attractions to explore in Ocracoke, and several restaurants and stores often offer on-the-dock cafes, bars, and shop access. Water lovers adore the Outer Banks' most quaint and well-preserved treasure, Ocracoke Village, and sailors will find themselves welcome among the local water-loving crowd.

Regardless of where your sailing adventures take you, the coast of North Carolina offers ample opportunities for mariners to spread their wings. Enjoy an extended vacation exploring the Intracoastal Waterway, or docking by one of the area's best-loved waterfront locations, or simply dedicate an afternoon of your next Outer Banks vacation learning a bit about the local sailing scene. Sailing lovers and sailing novices alike will surely find the Outer Banks a port of call well worth the exploration.

   Anchored in Ocracoke Harbor  

Black Pelican

Black Pelican

Black Pelican oceanfront restaurant is one of the Outer Banks’ premier restaurants serving lunch and dinner daily. Black Pelican is where you can enjoy fresh seafood, steaks, vegetarian dishes, sandwiches and some of the barrier island’s best wood-fired pizzas complete with a beautiful ocean view from the dining rooms and outdoor deck. The restaurant is big enough to handle large parties, but the setting is intimate enough for a cozy date.

Surfing in the Outer Banks

Surfing in the Outer Banks

Forget Hawaii and California - on the East Coast, the best place for surf is on the Outer Banks, and this region is renowned as one of the best surfing destinations from New York to Florida. Surfers from all over the country and the world flock to the Outer Banks for the annual ESA tournament, or just after a storm swell, to paddle out to the Atlantic and enjoy some of the best waves on the coast.

TRiO

TRiO

Wine, beer and cheese lovers will love TRiO, an exciting retail and tasting destination in Kitty Hawk. Both a gourmet retail wine, beer and cheese shop as well as a bistro with a wine bar and tap house, TRiO offers the best of the worlds of wine, beer and cheese for your enjoyment on premise or in the comfort of your home. TRiO's bistro is elegant and comfortable, with a large bar and two-story dining and bar area. The gourmet bistro menu of appetizers, and light fare such as cheese and charcuterie, paninis and salads make TRiO a wonderful lunch and dinner restaurant. Unique and high-tech self service WineStations are available in the downstairs bar area, where you can sample full, half and tastes of wines of all regions at varying price ranges. If you prefer beer, you can select from 24 beers on tap or try a TRiO Flight and sample a taste of four beers. In the upstairs mezzanine, which is part of the bistro, you'll find comfortable lounge seating and a free pool table. TRiO also has live music from local and visiting artist 4-5 nights a week all year long.

Outer Banks Nature Spots

Outer Banks Nature Spots

With 150 miles of pristine coastline, and some of the East Coast's largest swaths of undisturbed maritime forest, the Outer Banks is a popular destination for nature lovers. As an important spot on America's "Flyway," which is the route that migrating birds take on their northern and southern treks across the country, the Outer Banks is the temporary home to hundreds of species of birds. Combine this with the number of deer, foxes, waterfowl, fish, turtles, and even alligators, and it's clear that the Outer Banks is truly a wild vacation destination.

Best Western Ocean Reef Suites

Best Western Ocean Reef Suites


Stay at this all-suites, beachfront Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina hotel providing full-service amenities and convenient access to key area attractions. Located on the rustic Eastern coast of North Carolina, the BEST WESTERN Ocean Reef Suites offers beautiful beachfront views, superior customer service and comfortable accommodations at an affordable price. This all-suites Kill Devil Hills hotel features well-appointed suites equipped with cable satellite television and free high-speed Internet access. Hotel guests are welcome to a complimentary continental breakfast each morning before taking advantage of other hotel amenities including a seasonal outdoor heated swimming pool and spa, steam room, exercise facility and limited business services.

Hotel guests can spend a relaxing day along the Atlantic Ocean fishing, kayaking or just laying at the beach. This Outer Banks hotel also provides convenient access to several local golf courses and hang gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Just one mile from the hotel, guests can explore the Wright Brothers National Park and Memorial or take a short drive to visit the Fort Raleigh Historic Site and the Lost Colony. Hotel guests will also enjoy a day of sightseeing at local lighthouses including Cape Hatteras and Currituck Beach. The BEST WESTERN Ocean Reef Suites is also a short 20 mile drive from the North Carolina Aquarium and the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens.

The friendly, helpful staff at the BEST WESTERN Ocean Reef Suites is ready to ensure a fun-filled memorable stay in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Make a reservation today and save! Enjoy your stay,

Outer Banks Camping

Outer Banks Camping

Vacationers with a love of the great outdoors and a sense of adventure will truly appreciate Outer Banks camping. From expansive camping complexes with community pools and tennis courts to rustic oceanfront campsites with sea oats and sand, campers can choose how much "roughing it" their Outer Banks camping experience entails.

Sun Fish Grill

Sun Fish Grill

Sun Fish Grill is a great stop for fresh local seafood and a variety of delicious specialties. The menu has a good balance whether desiring sea fare, vegetarian choices, chicken or steak for lunch and dinner. You can make up a meal with appetizers, soups and salads or order wraps, rolls, burgers, baskets, plates and platters. Enjoy traditional mussels with a wine and garlic sauce, crab bites, Ahi tuna, veggies and wings for starters. Dive into She-Crab Bisque, Award Winning New England Clam Chowder and a variety of salads including the Sea-Breeze Tropical that features baby greens, mango, Mandarin oranges, green apples, nuts. Wraps and rolls include lobster, crab, tuna, chicken and veggie choices. Choose from chef specialties: fresh tuna, sirloin filet cut, pasta dishes, grilled chicken breast, classic crabcakes and our signature nachos. Our Fisherman’s Platter, a house specialty includes haddock, shrimp, oysters, and scallops. We offer a full bar and can cater to large parties all in a clean coastal atmosphere.  Being the largest restaurant in Corolla , we are perfect for dinner for two in our lounge or a large family gathering in the main dining room. 

Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Vacationers adore the Outer Banks for its unspoiled stretches of undeveloped shoreline, and some may not initially realize that this sporadic lack of development is completely intentional, and is the result of decades of careful environmental planning. While tourism flourished on the beaches, for generations, locals and visitors alike made inquiries and partnerships with government branches to ensure that certain areas of the Outer Banks would always remain pristine, unspoiled, and open to everyone.

Ocean Atlantic Rentals

Ocean Atlantic Rentals

If you need equipment while you are on vacation, you can be sure to find it at Ocean Atlantic Rentals. Serving families since 1979, this comprehensive rental destination has four locations on the Outer Banks and is happy to deliver to your door.  From baby needs to beach needs, Ocean Atlantic Rentals is ready to serve you. With Ocean Atlantic Rentals here, there is no need to lug your equipment from home if you can rent it when you arrive. Need baby equipment? Ocean Atlantic Rentals has everything from cribs and crib sheets to booster seats and exersaucers. Also in stock are high chairs, tricycles, strollers and more. Here you can find a bike for every family member and rent it for the week. Call 1-800-635-9559 and order before April 1, 2015 and recieve a discount for booking early and have yourequipment wiating at your rental home when you arrive!

(More Locations)
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Explore Hatteras Island at its natural best with a visit to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Covering 13 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore land, this attraction is hard to miss, although there aren't many giant signs, hotels or businesses to point the way. Instead, visitors will find a completely undeveloped parcel of land, that's well-stocked with gorgeous views and serene nature trails that are ideal for off-the-beaten path excursions.