Be Safe at the Beach
Beach Safety on the Outer Banks
You’re on vacation. Time to have fun, go on adventures, and to relax. Luckily you came to the right place to do all of that. While we have beautiful beaches on the Outer Banks, most visitors have limited experience in our environment. Just don’t limit yourselves in the beach safety category. Exercising common sense, and some caution, will go a long way toward enjoying your vacation. Remember to spend your time away on our beaches and not in the emergency room. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind during your Outer Banks stay.
Swim Near A Lifeguard
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents account for at least 100 deaths each year in the United States, and more than 80 percent of all ocean rescues are related to them. The most important precaution you can take when it comes to rip currents is to swim near a lifeguard. The chances of drowning at a beach with a USLA affiliated lifeguard are 1 in 18 million. Check with lifeguards about potential hazards and look for warning flags that signify dangerous water conditions. Lifeguards can advise you on the safest places to swim and also provide you with essential information about water conditions. Advisory boards are also located at lifeguard stands. Go to obxbeachaccess.com to find beach accesses where lifeguards are stationed.
Rip currents can materialize quickly on the Outer Banks. These powerful channels of water extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents are more likely to pull around low tide and in areas where there is a break in the wave pattern. Signs of a rip current include churning, choppy water, an area that has a notable difference in the color of the water, or a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward. If you find yourself being pulled seaward, stay calm and don’t fight the current. If you are able to, swim in a direction parallel to the shoreline. When you are free of the current, swim at an angle, away from the current and toward shore. If you are unable to escape by swimming; float or tread water and call or wave for help. To learn more, visit ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
Dangerous shore break
Waves crashing on the beach, particularly around high tide, can be powerful and dangerous – easily knocking someone off their feet – especially young children. These waves can cause serious neck, shoulder and spinal injuries. General rules to follow are to never turn your back to the waves, never dive to the bottom of oncoming waves, and if you do get knocked down to put your arms in front of you to protect your head and neck. Closely supervise children at all times when near the water. It is not recommended that you attempt to ride waves that are breaking onshore, or play in the impact zone.
Offshore winds (blowing from the southwest) can quickly blow you and your raft or Stand Up Paddleboard out toward sea further than desired or expected. Please check wind conditions before going on the water with equipment and if you are unsure, check with your lifeguard.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. Heat exhaustion – dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, profuse sweating, nausea and/or rapid heartbeat – is a serious condition that should not be ignored. If you experience these symptoms, move to a cooler location such as a shaded area, apply cool wet clothes to your skin and sip water. Cooling off your feet by placing them in a bucket of cool water is also helpful. If symptoms do not improve, a person should be examined by a health professional to make sure that heat stroke, which can be deadly, is not developing. To prevent heat-related illnesses, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and seek shade during hot weather. Remember, heat exhaustion is not just a human danger, pets are also affected. Exercise caution when bringing your pet on your beach vacation.
According to the National Weather Service, North Carolina is ranked second in the country for lightning-related deaths. Weather can change quickly on the Outer Banks, so it’s important to stay alert and check the weather forecast before heading out for the day. Listen to ocean rescue lifeguards when they warn of an incoming storm and suggest you leave the beach. They watch the radar closely. During thunderstorms, seek cover inside or if not available, in an enclosed vehicle. It is recommended that you wait 30 minutes following the last thunder crack to return to the beach.
To avoid contact with sharks, don’t enter or swim near a pier, since baitfish that sharks feed on are often attracted to these structures. Swim and wade in groups and avoid being in the water during dusk, at night, or during twilight hours when sharks are most active. Also refrain from wearing shiny jewelry, which can be mistaken by a shark as fish scales. Sand bars and steep drop offs are also places where sharks are more likely to dwell.
This is an obvious one in terms of beach safety. A vacation can be ruined by getting a severe sunburn, not to mention it can cause long-term skin damage and cancer. Sun exposure is more intense while on the beach and in the water, which means beachgoers need to be vigilant when it comes to sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group recommends using the mineral-based ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium oxide over chemical-based ingredients. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends an SPF of at least 30 and recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours or sooner if you are in the water. Water resistant sunscreen only lasts between 40 to 80 minutes.
Digging Holes on the Beach
Not commonly known as a beach safety concern, digging holes on the beach poses a number of dangers. People and animals can fall into the holes, especially at nighttime. Digging tunnels creates the potential for sand to collapse on you, posing a life-threatening situation. Holes can also present a danger to lifeguards and first responders in four-wheelers and trucks. A few rules of thumb before you dig in with that shovel are to never dig a hole deeper than the knees of the smallest person in the group; no tunneling whatsoever; and always fill in holes when you leave the beach.
Corolla Wild Horses
Lastly, it is illegal to come within 50 feet of the Corolla wild horses. They are unpredictable and dangerous, and best viewed from afar. It is also illegal to feed the horses. Unnatural food items can harm or even kill the horses, and it makes them more likely to seek out humans for food. A good rule of thumb for all wildlife is to be respectful and keep your distance – our Outer Banks ecology is fragile!
Understanding beach safety and staying safe is important to ensuring that your vacation is a happy one. If you are in doubt about something, do a little research and don’t forget to ask a lifeguard. They are your greatest resource once your feet hit the sand. Most Outer Banks towns also have websites outlining local rules and regulations, and don’t forget to check out obxbeachaccess.com for more valuable information. Always err on the side of caution so you can stay safe at the beach, and can be sure that you and your family have a wonderful stay. Enjoy!