We’re so glad you’ve decided to rediscover your OBX national parks this summer! As we enter what is sure to be a busy season, we want to share a few important safety tips and reminders with you, especially if you’re planning on visiting Cape Hatteras National Seashore this year.  

Family at the beach on Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Beach Safety 

  • Know before you go! Check the beach access status before heading out for the day.  
  • Pack it in, pack it out: Make sure to take all trash, fishing equipment and beach equipment with you when you leave the beach.
  • Discard fishing line in appropriate recycling receptacles. Your parks partnered with the North Carolina Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program in 2014 to install three of these receptacles on the seashore at Ramp 44 in Buxton, Ramp 55 in Hatteras and the Frisco Bath House.
  • Sand gets hot in the summertime! Keep a pair of flip flops or water shoes with you to avoid the OUCH!
  • Speaking of sand…digging in the sand and building sandcastles is fun, but if you dig a hole, please fill it in. Holes along the beach pose hazards to beachgoers, ocean rescue personnel and lifeguards who need to be able to drive along the beach, park rangers on patrol and nesting sea turtles.
  • Stay hydrated — bring water with you!
  • The best way to avoid sunburn is to wear sunscreen and UV-protective clothing and to limit outside time during peak UV hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Ocean Safety 

A perfect day on the beach doesn’t always mean it’s a perfect day in the ocean: 

  • Check the beach forecast before you go to the beach. Remember: If in doubt, don’t go out. Visit Love the Beach, Respect the Ocean for a daily report on ocean and weather conditions. You can also sign up for OBX Text Alerts for beach and ocean conditions by texting OBXBEACHCONDITIONS to 77295. Message and data rates may apply. 
  • Always enter the ocean with something that floats, like a boogie/body board, innertube or lifejacket.  
  • Never turn your back on the ocean! Stay vigilant, even if you are walking, running, building a sandcastle or fishing.
  • Ensure that all children are supervised by an adult.How to escape a rip current graphic
  • Never swim alone, no matter your age. Swimming in the ocean is physically taxing and may make underlying medical issues worse, especially in swimmers over 50 years of age.
  • Be aware that the waters of the Outer Banks are known for being extremely rough and present hazards like shore break, high surf and longshore currents.
  • Avoid swimming in rough seas, inlets, around fishing piers and surfers, during thunderstorms or at night.
  • It is unlawful to enter the ocean if red “No Swimming” flags are posted on the beach.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, remember: Float, don’t fight. If you are able, swim parallel to shore and yell for help.
  • Avoid wearing shiny objects that may attract sharks or other fish.  

We also highly recommend that you only swim in lifeguarded areas. At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, these include: 

These beaches will be lifeguarded from May 31 through September 6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.  

What do those flags mean? 

We’re so glad you asked! (Special thanks to the Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Division for these explanations) 

Red Rectangular Flag: Red indicates NO SWIMMING, usually due to rough surf and/or strong currents. 

Red No Swimming Flag on Beach

Yellow Triangular Flag: Yellow indicates dangerous currents; swim with caution. If in doubt, always ask a lifeguard. 

Yellow Dangerous Current Flag on the Beach

Purple Triangular Flag: Purple indicates sea life is actively present. This could be jellyfish, stingrays or other marine life. Check with a lifeguard for more information. 

Purple Marine Life Flag on the Beach

Additional Safety Information 

AccessibilityThree lifeguarded beaches are wheelchair accessible (Coquina Beach, Frisco Beach, Ocracoke Beach). Detailed information on accessibility at Cape Hatteras National Seashore is available here 

COVID-19: Consistent with CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. 

Emergency and Non-Emergency Assistance: If an emergency arises or you observe a crime in progress, call 911. For non-emergencies that require assistance from National Park Service law enforcement staff, call the Dare County non-emergency line at (252) 473-3444. 

Marine Life: If you come upon stranded, injured, sick or deceased marine life (sea turtles, dolphins, seals, etc.) call the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Stranding Hotline at (252) 216-6892.   

Permitting: Permits are required for off-road vehicles (ORVs), beach fires and special use events on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. More information is available here 

Have more questions? Check out Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s FAQs page. 

We look forward to seeing you in your parks! 

Photographs courtesy of the National Park Service, Love the Beach, Respect the Ocean and Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Division.