Corolla Guide Sections:
The Outer Banks is comprised of more water than land, as the fragile strips of terrain that make up these North Carolina barrier islands are bordered on all sides by deep blue major bodies of water.
Saltwater sounds buffer the Outer Banks on the west side, and the Atlantic Ocean expands for miles on the East, with inlets dotted in between each individual island. With this geography in mind, it's no wonder that boating is one of the Outer Bank's biggest activities, and one of the best ways to tour this coastal region.
With adventures for all tastes, including dolphin cruises, inshore and offshore fishing, sunset tours, or just lounging on deck a few miles off the beach, any Outer Banks vacation benefits from a day on the water. Bring your boat along on your next vacation, or contact a local charter or water tour business, and get your feet wet in the Outer Banks' largest attraction: the Open Water.
Outer Banks Public Boat Ramps
Vacationers are welcome to bring their boats along on vacation, and on a busy summer weekend, it's not unusual to see plenty of trailers towing boats on the bypass, the beach road, or NC Highway 12. Though generally not an issue, vacationers who are bringing a boat down to the Outer Banks should double check with their hotel or vacation rental company to ensure there is parking available for their boat and trailer.
The reward for towing your boat along on your trip is an abundance of public boat ramps all along the Outer Banks for easy launching into the inlet, sound, or ocean.
Currituck Beaches and Currituck Mainland Public Boat Ramps
Corolla: A small public boat ramp is located at the historic Whalehead in Historic Corolla at the end of the parking lot. Plan to spend a little time exploring the expansive and lovely Whalehead in Historic Corolla grounds before launching.
Poplar Branch (Mainland Currituck County): On US 158, turn on NC 3 and travel to the end of the road, approximately 1.1 miles. This ramp is maintained by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
Coinjock (Mainland Currituck County): While in Coinjock, turn on SR1405 or SR1405, and travel about .5 miles to SR1142. Then, travel 1 mile to the public boat ramp, situated in between the road and the Intracoastal Waterway Canal. This ramp is also maintained by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
Harbinger (mainland Currituck County): There are two public boat launches in Harbinger at Sound Park, located directly off US Highway 158. Perfect for family fun on and off the water, the park also includes community grills, 2 pavilions, restrooms, gazebos, a wildlife overlook to the sound, playgrounds, a paved walking trail, baseball fields, and volleyball courts.
Dare County Public Boat Ramps
Kitty Hawk: From Kitty Hawk Road, turn left onto Bob Perry Road and look for the Dare County Public Boat Ramp sign. At this public launch, there is parking available for up to 30 vehicles, as well as a picnic area and canal that leads out to open sound waters.
Oregon Inlet: The Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, located adjacent to the Bonner Bridge on the Northern side, is located directly off of NC Highway 12 and has parking available for up to 45 vehicles with trailers. There is gas, snacks, and tackle available on the Marina premises.
Manteo: Across from Pirate's Cove Marina, on the western side of the Washington Baum Bridge, a NC Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp is available to the public. Parking is available for up to 50 vehicles, and there are several pedestrian walkways for easy, boat-free fishing.
Wanchese: A public boat ramp is located by Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant just past the center of town. Access can be limited due to commercial vessels and parking.
Manteo: Another public NC Wildlife Resources Commission boat ramp is located in the town of Manteo off of Bowerstown Road. Take a left on California Road, and you'll find the relatively private boat ramp with parking for up to 30 vehicles.
Manteo: A public boat ramp maintained by the Town of Manteo is located in the heart of downtown. Turn on Budleigh Street, (at the stoplight in the center of town), and follow it to the end before turning left. The boat ramp is next to the public bridge leading to the Elizabeth II. Because of its central location, parking may be limited.
Manns Harbor: Manns Harbor is located in mainland Dare County, just over the bridges from Manteo. This small town has a public boat ramp on Old Ferry Dock Road with limited parking and access, but an easy run to the Croatan Sound.
Manns Harbor: Another recently updated public boat ramp is located off of Mashoes Road (Approximately a mile down, near the Fish and Wildlife sign.) This double boat ramp offers a large parking lot for vehicles.
Kill Devil Hills: A public boat ramp is located in Kill Devil Hills off of Bay Drive and Dock Street. This ramp is maintained by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and features multiple docks and paved parking for up to 12 vehicles
Hatteras: Hatteras Village has a number of boat ramps located at various small marinas throughout the town. See Marinas for more information.
Ocracoke Village: A public boat ramp is located in the heart of Ocracoke Village, next to the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter Ferry Docks at the very end of NC Highway 12. The launch area also has visitor information and public restrooms.
Outer Banks Marinas
The Outer Banks is dotted with marinas, providing vacationers and locals alike with plenty of access to long-term docking, boat ramp access, a number of charter boat businesses, and much more. In fact, many marinas have ships' stores or tackle shops on premise, and some even have waterfront grills, bars, or even fine dining restaurants for Outer Banks dining at its best. While boat slips may be limited, especially in the summer months, long and short term leases are always available, and there are many marinas to choose from to dock your boat. Just call ahead and reserve your spot.
Northern Outer Banks Marinas
Kitty Hawk: The Dock of the Bay Marina features protected dockage, and easy access to the public boat ramp. The marina also offers gas and diesel fuel, public restrooms, a picnic area with plenty of tables and charcoal grills, and a ship's store for sandwiches, drinks, groceries, bait, tackle and ice. The Dock of the Bay is located at the end of Bob Perry Road, bordering the Loving Canal at Hog Island.
Manteo: The Waterfront Marina is located in the center of the action in downtown Manteo, and features showers, dockage, and access to a public boat ramp. Because of its central location bordering the downtown Manteo streets and attractions, there are plenty of shopping and dining opportunities just a short walk off the docks.
The Pirate's Cove Yacht Club, located at the west end of the Washington Baum Bridge, has more of an upper crust feel, and is adjacent to some of Manteo's finest waterfront condos. This marina features a number of fishing charter businesses, and is the launching point for many annual fishing tournaments, including the Pirate's Cove Billfish tournament, the Alice Kelly Ladies Memorial Tournament, and the Rockfish Rodeo.
In addition to standard marina services such as storage, gas and diesel fuel, dockage and slip rentals, Pirate's Cove also features a full-service restaurant that serves lunch and dinner overlooking the docks.
Wanchese: The Broad Creek Fishing Center is always bustling with fishing charters, headboat fishing, fish cleaning services on site, and even commercial fishing crowding the docks. This marina offers gas and diesel fuel, repairs, in and out boat storage facility, a ship's store, marine supplies, and essentials like cool drinks, groceries, and ice. Adjacent to the Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park, it's easy to see why this marina stays consistently busy.
The Thicket Lump Marina, also in Wanchese, features a number of fishing charters as well as fish cleaning services, boat slips for rent, fuel, and the Beach Outfitters Bait and Tackle Shop which is known for its custom rods. This Marina can be found at the southernmost point of Wanchese at the end of Thicket Lump Road. *Note - currently closed but slated to re-open soon!*
Nags Head / Pea Island: You can't miss the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center by the Bonner Bridge. This sprawling marina is the only commercial center on this stretch of NC Highway 12 and features plenty of fishing charters, as well as rental dockage, fuel, and fish cleaning services. The marina features five public boat ramps, and an extensive ship's store that offers marine and camping supplies, food, drinks, bait, tackle and ice, and plenty of fishing information and experts on hand to let visitors know what's biting.
Southern Outer Banks Marinas
Frisco: The small Scotch Bonnet Marina in Frisco features limited dockage and slip rentals, but is located next to the aptly named Scotch Bonnet Gift Shop. Featured on Food Network, this small gift shop also has world class fudge and plenty of sweets and candies.
Hatteras: Heading south on NC Highway 12, the first marina you'll encounter is Oden's Dock. One of the oldest in Hatteras, this marina features fishing charters, fish cleaning services, refrigeration and freezer storage, fuel, dockage and slip rentals, and a small convenience store with food, drinks, bait, tackle, and ice. Oden's Dock also specializes in rod and reel repairs, and has a seafood market and small motel on the premises. Most notably, Oden's Dock is also home to renowned Breakwater Restaurant, one of Hatteras Island's oldest fine dining restaurants, with unparalleled soundfront views.
The Hatteras Harbor Marina in Hatteras Village is home to a number of local fishing charters, and offers fish cleaning and storage services, diesel fuel and slip rentals, as well as power, water, telephone, and cable TV hookups. Long-term visitors will also enjoy their shower facilities, Laundromat, ship's store, and efficiency apartments on site as well as the Hatteras Harbor Deli.
Right next to the Hatteras Ferry Docks is the Hatteras Landing Marina. This marina may be slightly overshadowed by the abundance of shops, restaurants, and small collection of condos that border it, but it features all the amenities that boaters need, including fish cleaning services, freezer storage, gas and diesel fuel, slip rentals, and power, water, telephone, and cable TV hookups. There are public restrooms with showers, and the marina shops feature a deli, as well as seasonally open restaurants and food stands.
Teach's Lair Marina is one of Hatteras Island's most recognized marinas and is the launching point for a number of annual fishing tournaments. The marina features a boat ramp, numerous offshore and inshore fishing charters, fish cleaning services, boat and vehicle fuel services, slip rentals, ship's store, Dinky's waterfront restaurant, (one of Hatteras Village's newest favorite restaurants), and The Roost Bait and Tackle Shop.
The Village Marina, also located in this hub of marinas on the southern end of Hatteras Village, features fishing charters, a boat ramp, fuel, dry yard storage, and slip rentals. There are also shower facilities on premise, as well as a gift shop, motel and a campground.
Ocracoke: The Ocracoke Fishing Center, also known as the Anchorage Marina, is the launching point for the majority of Ocracoke's fishing charters. This small but busy marina also has a boat ramp, gas and diesel fuel, dockage and slip rentals. Long-term dockers can also access power, water, and cable TV hookup, as well as scooter rentals for zipping around town. There is a small ship's store with marine supplies, bait, tackle and ice, a gift shop, and a neighboring motel and waterfront SmacNally's Dockside restaurant. Because of its central location, this marina is also an east stroll away from Ocracoke's collection of shops, restaurants and attractions.
See our list of boat rental companies.
Want to explore the 100 miles of the Outer Banks coastline on your own? A growing number of local companies offer boat rentals for vacationers, by the hour, day, or week, so that visitors can explore the shore at their own pace.
Boat rentals can range from small Carolina Skiffs, ideal for a day of light fishing in the sound, to fully stocked charter boats, (including rods, reels, fishing line and even tackle), delivered to your boat slip of choice. (A number of these rental companies also offer SEATOW / Boat U.S. service, just in case you run into trouble on the water.)
Bear in mind when renting a boat that all North Carolina boating laws apply. All persons onboard who are fishing are required to have a North Carolina Fishing License, and a Boating Safety Course Certificate is mandatory by NC Law for all persons under 26 years of age.
See our list of boat tour companies.
The Outer Banks' infatuation with the water runs deep, as evident by the sheer number and variety of boat tours available in just about every Outer Banks community, from Corolla to Ocracoke. There are a number of local businesses that offer seasonal day, half day or evening tours of the ocean and sound waters bordering the 'Banks, launching daily from the area's major marinas.
Some of the most popular specialized tours are the local dolphin cruises. Dolphins and porpoises are common in both the ocean and sound waters off the Outer Banks, and are incredibly curious and friendly with passing boaters. In fact, it's not uncommon to spot a pod of dolphins swimming up and under a vessel, and bumping along the side as if to say hello. Seasonally offered, there are plenty of dolphin cruises available all along the North Carolina coastline, so visitors have their pick. Be sure and bring the kids and a camera for this adventure.
Families with children can enjoy an adventure on the high seas with a Pirate Cruise, which features swashbucklers on board ready to overtake the ship as it glides through the sound, and plenty of plastic swords and eye-patches to go around.
Sunset cruises are another popular adventure, as tour boats make slow progress along the sound for an unparalleled waterfront sunset. Several companies also offer wine and dining on these cruises for a romantic adults evening out on the water.
Regardless of what type of tour you decide to take, from a standard exploration of the Outer Banks to a relaxing wine and dine cruise, please remember that despite the variety and number of tours available, reservations are often recommended, specifically for larger parties. You'll also want to double check cancellation policies and make-up dates for tours, as the weather in the Outer Banks is famously fickle.
Naturally, one of the biggest reasons to bring the boat along is the exceptional offshore and inshore fishing the Outer Banks has to offer. Visitors will quickly find there are dozens if not hundreds of charter businesses that serve the Outer Banks and depart daily from the local marinas.
Offered year round, you have the option to book a fishing charter during your vacation, or bring the boat along for some of the best fishing on the East Coast. With easy access to the Gulf Stream, and a national reputation as the Blue Marlin Capital of the World, the offshore waters of the Outer Banks is ideal for novice and experienced anglers alike on the hunt for big game.
Outer Banks Boating Tips
While the Outer Banks is clearly very boater friendly, there are a few items to keep in mind before you launch and take to the water.
- A fishing license is required for anyone over the age of 16 who is fishing aboard a boat. You can purchase a fishing license at a number of local Outer Banks tackle stores, or purchase one online at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission website.
- All persons over the age of 26 must take a Boating Safety Course before operating a boat. Courses are available online and at local marinas.
- The Outer Banks is served by 3 major Coast Guard stations, located in Hatteras Village, Ocracoke, and Elizabeth City on the Eastern NC mainland. The Coast Guard regularly patrols the areas surrounding the Outer Banks.
- SEATOW / Boat U.S. service also services the waters off the Outer Banks for boats that have mechanical problems and need to be towed.
- Please pay attention to the weather forecasts and plan accordingly. It is not unusual for the weather to change quickly on the Outer Banks, and boaters should be on the lookout for nor'easters, coastal lows, impending storms, and high winds.
- Some inshore areas on Hatteras Island may be seasonally closed to visitors during nesting seasons. These areas are generally well-marked, so be on the lookout for signs posted by the National Park Service indicating where boating access may be restricted.
- Avoid the green and red channel markers between Hatteras and Ocracoke which indicate the channel for the Hatteras Island ferry to pass though. Use caution in heavily populated areas, such as the Hatteras, Ocracoke and Oregon Inlets.
- Observe all boating safety rules and regulations and be sure and have enough life jackets for all passengers on board.
The waters off the Outer Banks are ripe for exploring, and boaters are always welcome from Carova to Ocracoke for fishing, touring, and just all around enjoying a leisurely day on the water.
On your next Outer Banks vacation make plans to book a boating tour, commandeer your own rental, embark on a fishing charter, or just let your own boat tag along with you. The rewards are endless water views, incredible offshore and inshore fishing, and a boatful of fun family memories to take back home.