Jun 06, 2022

Guide to Outer Banks Beach Safety

Plan Ahead for a Fun and Safe Day at the Beach

Whether you’re planning to hang out on the shore all day or simply pop down for a sunrise, Outer Banks beach safety is helpful to know before you go. Familiarizing yourself with some of the most common beach safety topics can help your group prepare for an amazing day on the sand. Many tips for beach safety are general, applying to all OBX beaches, but be advised that specific towns and communities may have additional regulations as well.

OBX lifeguard beach safety


Generally, lifeguards can be found on all OBX beaches on patrol and/or on lifeguard stands between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. Outer Banks lifeguards train regularly and are a great resource for any beach safety questions you may have. 

The signs posted on lifeguard stands (and smaller signs on roving ATVs) provide quick information about beach conditions, such as the ocean temperature, high and low tides, dangerous shorebreak, and if any other specific dangers, like storm debris, are present. 

See our list of lifeguard locations in each town to see if there will be a lifeguard stand near your vacation spot. When choosing your daily spot in the sand, look around to be sure you will not be in the way of the lifeguards if an emergency situation arises.

lifeguard stand obx beach safety

Each Outer Banks town’s ocean rescue team has its own personality. You can learn more about the different ocean rescue teams on their respective websites and social media. 

Corolla Beach Rescue

Duck Surf Rescue

Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue  

Nags Head Ocean Rescue 

Red Flags

If you see the red flags flying at the beach, swimming is not allowed. The red “no swimming” flags indicate that conditions are too dangerous for swimming. Some OBX towns are now using yellow flags as well, which advise swimmers to use extra caution due to the presence of strong currents. 

Some local lifeguards have begun flying purple flags. Purple flags indicate the presence of sea life, such as jellyfish or sea lice, that can quickly turn a great beach day into an unpleasant one.

Rip Currents

Rip currents are quick-moving currents of ocean water that can quickly pull beach swimmers out to sea. If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic. Swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current and then swim back to shore. If you can’t escape the rip current, float or tread water until help arrives. 

NOAA recently launched a Rip Current Forecast Model which helps lifeguards assess the need for yellow or red flags to warn swimmers about the dangerous currents.

beach safety rip currents
beach hole

Digging Holes

Digging large holes on the beach can be a hazard to both humans and wildlife. Sand holes collapse often due to the instability and weight of sand, posing a suffocation risk to anyone in the sand hole. Sand holes create hazards for lifeguards patrolling the beach on ATVs and people walking along the beach. In addition, sand holes can become fatal traps for sea turtles that generally nest on the beach at night. Be sure to fill all sand holes at the end of the day, or, better yet, build an epic sand castle instead!


Other Beach Safety Considerations

There are plenty of other things you can do to ensure you have a fun and safe day on the beach. Plan accordingly, even if you’re planning to relax in your beach chair all day, and enjoy your time on the coast. 

  • Hydrate – Drink plenty of water. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are common on OBX beaches during the hot summer months.
  • Don’t forget your flip-flops – the sand can be scorching hot in the mid-day summer sun. Wear a pair of sandals or flip-flops to protect your feet while walking across the sand. 
  • Wear sunscreen – A sunburn can be painful and can force you to be inside for the rest of your vacation. Apply sunscreen before you get to the beach and reapply every 90 minutes. 
  • Check the weather  – Summer afternoon thunderstorms can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Stay alert to thunder, fast-moving clouds, and shifting wind patterns when on the beach.
  • Pets on the beach – The heat and mid-day summer sun on the OBX is often too intense for our four-legged friends. During the summer months, try to limit beach visits with your dog to the morning and evening hours, when temperatures are cooler and the sand isn’t hot enough to burn paws. Some Outer Banks beaches allow pets on the beach only during specified time frames. Familiarize yourself with your vacation rental’s town’s pets on the beach rules and regulations prior to your visit.
obx lifeguard
dogs and horse 4x4

Staying on the 4×4 Beaches?

In general, the same beach safety recommendations apply on the 4×4 beaches as on other OBX beaches, however, there are additional factors to consider with wild horses and vehicles on the beach. 

The Corolla Wild Horses that roam the 4×4 beaches are regular visitors to the ocean during the summer months. The horses are wild animals, so be sure to stay at least 50 feet back from them and never approach or feed them. 

There are no lifeguard stands on the 4×4 beaches, however, there are roving lifeguards on patrol during the summer months.

Courtney Wisecarver

Courtney Wisecarver

Jun 06, 2022

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