Beach safety tips: How to stay safe in and out of the water

Published 11:19 am Thursday, June 22, 2023

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The beach is calling … and we’re ready to go! With many already making their way to the Outer Banks beaches, it’s important to keep safety in mind this summer while enjoying long, sunshine-filled days spent out in the ocean and on the sand. If you’re heading seaside, keep the following tips in mind to make sure you and all of your beach buddies (including the furry ones!) stay safe.

Always swim near a lifeguard stand. This is a great way to be proactive when thinking about beach safety, especially in the event of an emergency. Lifeguards are trained individuals that can assist in times of need. Lifeguard stands can be found in Dare County at many area locations:

The following Cape Hatteras National Seashore locations are staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day: Coquina Beach (across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse), Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach (adjacent to the Old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site), Frisco Beach (located just south of Frisco Village), Ocracoke Beach (1.5 miles south of the National Park Service campground or 0.5 mile north of Ocracoke Village).

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The following Nags Head locations are staffed from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day (with roving patrol through October 15): Albatross Street, Abalone Street, Bonnett Street, Hollowell Street, Town Hall, Enterprise Street, Epstein Street Bathhouse, Forrest Street, Gray Eagle Street, Gulfstream Street, Hargrove Street, Ida Street, Indigo Street, Juncos Street, Limulus Street.

The following Kill Devil Hills locations are staffed from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day (with roving patrol through October 15): Helga Street, Hayman Boulevard, Eden Street, Avalon Drive, Fifth Street, Third Street, Second Street, First Street, Coral Drive, Asheville Drive, Woodmere Avenue, Carlow Avenue, Ocean Bay Boulevard, Oregon Avenue, Baum Street, Clark Street, Martin Street, Atlantic Street, Neptune Drive, Lake Drive, Eighth Street.

The following Kitty Hawk locations are staffed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (plus a roving patrol): from Memorial Day through Labor Day: Byrd Street, Eckner Street, Lillian Street, Kitty Hawk Bath House.

The following Southern Shores locations are staffed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Memorial Day through Labor Day (with roving patrol through October 31): Hillcrest Drive, Chicahauk Trail. These locations are staffed mid-June through mid-August: East Dogwood Trail, 142 Ocean Boulevard.

The following Duck locations are staffed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 27 through September 4: Caffey’s Inlet, Sprigtail Drive, Barrier Island Station, Schooner Ridge Drive, Christopher Drive, Four Seasons Lane. These locations are staffed from June 17 through August 13: Pines Drive, Widgeon Drive, South Snow Geese Drive, Dune Road, Scarborough Lane, Plover Drive, Charles Jenkins Lane.

The following Corolla locations are staffed from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day: Buck Island, Corolla Light, Corolla Village, Ocean Hill, Ocean Sands (Sections B, D, F, O, P), Pine Island, The Currituck Club, Villages at Ocean Hill, Whalehead (Sturgeon, Herring, Bonito and Sailfish street accesses).

While swimming within eyesight of a lifeguard, it is also important to know the risks that lie within the waves. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, a shared study found that there are over 100 deaths each year in the U.S. attributed to rip currents. Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water that flow away from shore, and typically extend to the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves. Certain conditions can increase rip currents to dangerous speeds, and swimmers tend to find themselves in trouble when they are moved far away from shore, unable to get back to the beach due to fear, panic, exhaustion, and/or lack of swimming skills.

To help prevent being caught in a rip current, follow these tips: never swim alone, keep a floatation device with you while in the water, brush up on your basic swimming skills prior to entering the water, look for posted signs and warning flags, and check in with the lifeguard before entering the water. If you are swimming in the ocean and are struggling to get back to shore, remain calm. Rips currents pull you out, not under. Get the attention of a lifeguard or bystander, stay afloat by treading water, swim parallel to the shore and don’t try to swim against the current.

If you see someone caught in a rip current or having trouble getting back to shore, the best thing to do is to get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not present, call 911. Once you have called for help, direct the victim to swim following the shoreline, and if possible, throw the victim something that floats. Never enter the water without a floatation device, and don’t become a victim by trying to rescue someone else.

Along with staying safe in the water, beachgoers should know the risks that lie along the shoreline, such as in the sand. Sand collapses are hazardous and can occur in holes just a few feet deep. Never dig a hole deeper than it is wide. Children and adults should not dig holes deeper than their knees when standing in them.

If a hole is dug, fill it in. Ocean rescue personnel and lifeguards must be able to drive on the sand day and night, and large holes in the sand can be difficult to see. Also, sea turtle laying and hatching season is May through September. Holes in the sand are obstructions for female sea turtles laying nests on the beach at night and hatchlings heading out to sea roughly 60 days later.

Children should be supervised at all times to ensure a safe beach day. Even if your child has taken swim lessons, they should never enter the water alone and swim within an arm’s reach of a trusted adult. Kids should swim with a floatation device and always ask permission before entering the ocean. It is important to teach children about the risks of the water and where to go for help (such as to a lifeguard).

As for furry friends, it is best to keep dogs off of the beach at the hottest parts of the day, and provide them access to plenty of shade and fresh, cool water. Try and keep activity to a minimum while at the beach, with lots of time to rest. Ingesting a small amount of sea water won’t do any harm as long as dogs have access to fresh water, but if they swallow enough seawater, they can become seriously dehydrated. Signs include vomiting; thick, ropy saliva and dry, tacky gums.

To learn more about beach safety and monitor daily beach conditions, visit Everyone visiting a beach on the Outer Banks is also encouraged to sign up for beach condition alerts by texting “OBXBeachConditions” to 77295. Staying “in the know” is a great way to safe this summer!