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Rip currents are strong narrow currents moving away from shore. On the Outer Banks, they are generally caused by a break in the off-shore sandbar that runs along the entire shoreline. Water moving along the shore rushes out this opening, and can pull even the strongest swimmer away from the beach in a matter of minutes.
If you are caught in a rip current, the most important thing to do is stay calm. Don't fight the current by trying to swim straight back toward shore. Instead, swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the rip, then swim diagonally to shore so you don't get caught up again. If you can't swim out of the rip, float or tread water to save energy until the rip current dissapates in the deeper water. Call or wave for help from a lifeguard or bystander.
If you see someone caught in a rip current, find a lifeguard right away. If there is no lifeguard available, call 911 and look for the nearest beach access or house number to tell the dispatcher your location. Do not try to swim out to them unless you are trained in ocean rescue.
To avoid getting caught in a rip current, first learn to spot one. Rip currents are characterized by a change in water color in a narrow band perpendicular to shore: either murkier from sediments or darker from greater depth. Other telltale signs are a break in the white line of crashing waves, or an object moving steadily out to sea.
Lifeguards may mark rip currents with yellow flags in some locations. If red flags are flying, that means NO SWIMMING even if you see surfers or other swimmers in the ocean. Surfers who enter the water must be leashed to a fiberglass board at least 5 feet long with a fin. Most rental surfboards are not fiberglass and so do not meet these criteria.
All swimmers should know their limitations and abilities. The ocean is much different than a pool. Always swim with a buddy, and make sure someone on shore is watching you as well. If you are not a strong swimmer, don't go in the ocean!
It is always safest to swim in front of a lifeguard. All of the towns from Corolla to Nags Head staff lifeguard stands and roving patrols in-season.
Stands are manned 7 days a week in season, 9:30am to 5:30pm
Ocean Hill, Headwind Way
Light House, Franklyn Street
Shad, Austin Street
Section P, Driftwood Way
Section O, Sea Bird Way
Section F, Sand Fiddler
Section D, Marlin Way
Section B, Sand Hill
Bathhouse, Old Stoney Road
Pine Island, Audobon Drive
Additional Stands manned from the last Sunday in June to 1st Sunday in Aug
Crown Point Circle
Stands manned from May 26 through September 4:
Barrier Island Station
Schooner Ridge Drive
Four Seasons Drive
Stands manned from June 23 through August 17:
Roving ATV Patrols in season
Stands manned Memorial Day - Labor Day:
Stands manned approximately June 21- August 9
144 Ocean Blvd
Roving ATV Patrols May 1-October 15th
Stands open from Saturday of Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, 10am to 6pm.
Kitty Hawk Bathhouse (300 yards south of Kitty Hawk Road)
Roving ATV Patrols from Labor Day until September 30, 10am to 5pm
Kill Devil Hills
Stands open Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10am to 5:30pm.
Ocean Bay Boulevard
Roving ATV Patrols in season.
Stands open Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day weekend, 10am to 6pm.
Gray Eagle Street
Gulf Stream Street
Roving ATV Patrols in season.
You can also check their websites for more information: