As residents and visitors head to the 110 miles of shoreline along the Outer Banks, it is important for beachgoers to be aware of potential beach hazards and safety concerns they may encounter.

From rip currents and strong winds to lightning and excessive heat, there are several risks that you need to be aware of before you head to the shoreline of the Outer Banks. To ensure your beach days are memorable for all the right reasons and that your family has a stress-free Outer Banks vacation from start to finish, it’s important to follow a few tips for staying safe this season.


Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can pull swimmers out into the open ocean. With the ability to move at speeds of up to 8 feet per second, powerful rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer. This makes rip currents especially dangerous to beachgoers as these currents can sweep even the strongest swimmers out to sea.


How to Spot a Rip Current

Rip currents can often appear as narrow, darker parts of the surf line, with water heading offshore in between areas of breaking waves and white ocean wash. Rip currents are typically around 10 feet to 100 feet wide, but can be up to 10 times larger, depending on the area.


Look for changes in the ocean, especially when it comes to the area where the waves are breaking. If one section of shoreline looks different – either a darker color or with interrupted wave action – then it’s best to swim away from this area.

How to Avoid a Rip Current


Before you head to the beach, visit Weather.gov/beach/mhx and click the umbrella to view a condition report for your area.

  • It is important that you are sure you know how to swim in the surf and that you never swim alone, even if you are an experienced swimmer. Swimming in the ocean is not the same as swimming in a pool or a lake.
  • Always swim near a lifeguard. View Outer Banks lifeguard locations at LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com.
  • Look for posted signs and warning flags, which can help indicate any nearby hazards, such as rip currents or submerged objects.
  • Check in with lifeguards before swimming and always follow the lifeguard’s instructions and advice.
  • At unguarded beaches, don’t enter the water unless you are wearing a personal flotation device or using a surfboard or bodyboard with a leash. Keep in mind that rip currents can often appear as narrow, darker parts of the surf line, with water heading offshore in between areas of breaking waves and white ocean wash.
  • Be cautious, and always assume that rip currents are present, even if you don't see them. When in doubt, don't go out!


Where to Find Current Beach Conditions

Several online tools are available for beachgoers to determine the current beach conditions and forecast for any given day along the Outer Banks.


• Online updates: LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com features daily rip current forecasts from the National Weather Service for all Dare County and National Park Service Outer Banks beaches, from Duck to Ocracoke.
• Text updates: Outer Banks residents and visitors can also sign up for text alerts which are administered by Outer Banks lifeguards, ocean rescue agencies and the National Weather Service. To sign up for beach-related weather and ocean condition alerts, text “OBXBEACHCONDITIONS” to 77295. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting “STOP” to 77295.
• Watch the tides: The strongest rip currents often occur a couple of hours on either side of low tide, so keep an eye on the daily low tide and high tide schedules as needed. LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com features daily high tide and low tide times, as well as weather conditions to make rip current research even easier.


How to Escape a Rip Current

If you do get stuck in a rip current along the Outer Banks, keep the following steps in mind to ensure you can escape the rip current and get back to the shore safely.

The most important thing to note is that rip currents pull you out,- not under.

• Remain calm. Panicking is the worst thing you can do if you’re caught in a rip current, as it will expend extra energy. Keeping your cool will allow you to think clearly and make smart next moves.
• Yell and wave for help.
• Don’t swim against the current. You will waste energy and will likely be unable to swim against the strength of the current.
• Swim parallel to the beach. Instead of swimming against the current, start to swim parallel to the beach (to the right or left) to escape the current. Once you no longer feel the pull of the current and are safely out of its grasp, then you can begin swimming back to shore.
• Float when you need to.Most rip currents weaken after 50 to 100 yards, so take your time returning to shore, and take plenty of breaks if you start to get tired.


Ways to Protect your Family from Rip Currents

A simple way to protect you and your family from rip currents is to swim at a lifeguarded beach. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore has three lifeguarded beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the following locations:


• Coquina Beach Day Use Area (Bodie Island) - Located across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse site.
• Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach (Hatteras Island) - Adjacent to the Old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site.
• Frisco Beach Day Use Area (Hatteras Island) - Located just south of Frisco Village.
• Ocracoke Beach Day Use Area (Ocracoke Island) - 1.5 miles south of the National Seashore campground, or .5 miles north of Ocracoke Village


In addition, there are dozens of lifeguarded beaches in the popular beach communities of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck. Visit LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.comfor a full list of lifeguarded beaches in the central Outer Banks, as well as their dates and hours of operation. To find the lifeguarded beach access closest to you utilizing the Dare County GIS Recreation Map, visit Play.DareCountyNC.gov/?Lifeguards.


Excessive Heat

During the height of summer, humidity and high temperatures can combine to create dangerous conditions and the potential for heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to ensure that excessive heat doesn’t put you in danger or put a damper on your Outer Banks vacation.


• Keep an eye on the weather. Again, the beach condition forecast at LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com is a powerful resource to stay abreast of any dangerous conditions along the Outer Banks seashore. You can also text “OBXBEACHCONDITIONS” to 77295 to receive beach alerts, including warnings about excessive heat.
• Stay hydrated. Drink more water at the beach than usual, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Be wary of alcohol, which can also cause dehydration, on and off the sand.
• Go exploring off the beach. Young children, elderly vacationers and individuals with medical conditions should stick to air-conditioned locations, such as a local museum or aquarium, when excessive heat watches and warnings are issued by the National Weather Service..
• Bring the sunscreen and the beach gear. Make sure you have sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and/or light-colored cover up, an umbrella, or optimally, all of the above when you hit the beach. Be sure to reapply reef-safe sunscreen every two hours, or after every dip in the ocean.
• Keep your pets in mind, and avoid taking them to the beach during the middle of the day, when temperatures are the highest. Make sure your pets have shady areas and plenty of water and take them back to the beach house when temperatures start to rise. The same hot sand that can burn a human’s feet can burn your pet’s feet as well! Remember that pets are prohibited on the beach during certain times of the day and the year on Dare County beaches—typically during peak hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day—so be sure to check with local officials and adhere to the rules and regulations that are in place in the area you’re visiting.


Other Beach Guidelines

While rip currents and excessive heat are two of the biggest beach hazards during the summertime, there are a few additional guidelines vacationers should follow to ensure a safe and happy Outer Banks adventure.


• Don’t dig large or deep holes on the beach. Sand collapses can occur in holes that are just a few feet deep, trapping beachgoers inside them and potentially even leading to death. If you dig any type of hole in the sand, be sure and cover it up before you go. Emergency personnel, other beachgoers, and wildlife including nesting sea turtles all use the beach on a regular basis, and holes that are left behind can become fatal.
• Protect against unwanted animal encounters. While animal attacks are extremely rare, it’s smart to always be aware of your surroundings when swimming in the ocean. Watch for jellyfish and areas where schools of fish are highly active (an indication of popular feeding grounds), and avoid swimming near fishing piers and popular fishing beaches. Also, remove any shiny jewelry before heading into the water, which could be misinterpreted by wildlife as being fish scales.
• Monitor the weather for summer storms. Weather forecasts can change quickly along the Outer Banks, especially in the summer season. Check the forecast for thunderstorms, and if you do hear a distant boom, consider leaving the beach immediately. Lightning often strikes more than three miles from the center of a thunderstorm, and, on occasion, it can strike up to 10-15 miles away from a thunderstorm.
When thunder roars, head indoors.


There are a number of resources available to Outer Banks newcomers and longtime visitors alike, and they start with LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com.
Be informed of the potential risks and how to mitigate them, check the weather before you head to the beach, and sign up for alerts to receive an extra layer of protection. With just a little information and vigilance, you can ensure that your getaway to the Outer Banks is stress-free and, most importantly, safe.


Click here for today's rip current forecast. Love the Beach, Respect the Ocean is Dare County's public safety resource for visitors seeking up-to-the-minute forecasts and beach safety information. Know before you go! Text OBXBEACHCONDITIONS to 77295. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting “STOP” to 77295, once your Outer Banks vacation is over. Standard text message rates apply. You can also visit LoveTheBeachRespectTheOcean.com for a wealth of valuable ocean and beach safety information.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse