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Outer Banks Swimming Safety

Outer Banks Ocean Swimming Safety Tips

Outer Banks Red Flag Warnings

During dangerous surf conditions on Outer Banks beaches, the public is informed by local radio stations and also warned by red "NO SWIMMING" flags flying on the oceanfront at beach entrances. For your safety, please obey all red flag warnings.

It is against the law to swim in the surf when there is a Red Flag Warning on the Outer Banks beaches of Currituck County (Ocean Hill, Corolla Light, Whalehead, Monteray Shores, Buck Island, Crown Point, The Currituck Club, Spindrift, Ocean Sands and Pine Island) and Southern Shores. Violation is subject to a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail. "Swimming" is defined to also mean entry into the ocean by assistance of any device commonly used. (Surfers using a fiberglass and foam combination surfboard of at least five feet in length with a minimum of one fin and used with a leash are exempted from this red flag provision.)

Rip Currents

Seward currents, also called rip currents or rip tides, are created by breaks in the sand bar off shore and are very dangerous. Rip currents are channels of water flowing away from the shore and will pull a swimmer out from shore. When a rip current forms, a channel of water 10 to 50 feet wide flows quickly away from shore. Contrary to popular conceptions, rip currents do not pull swimmers underwater. To spot a rip current, look for the following signs:

1. Water appears calmer and cooler than water around it
2. Water color appears different than water around it"
3. Foam, objects, or debris are moving away from the shore

If you are caught in a rip current, do not try to swim toward the shore against the current. Instead, wave and call for the Lifeguard, swim parallel to the shore until free of the current and then swim to shore. Above all, remain calm.


A backwash current on a steeply sloping beach can pull you toward deper water, but its power is swiftly checked by incoming waves. To escape this current, swim straight in if you're a strong swimmer. If not, wait and float until the current stops, then swim in. If the current takes you out through incoming waves, it is a rip current.