What do the flags mean? Where should I swim? What do I do if I get caught in a rip current? Here is some information to make your visit to the beach safer.
Current beach forecast information from the National Weather Service Wilmington Weather Field Office
Each beach town has lifeguard stands to help watch over the beach and share conditions on the surf. Be sure to pay attention to the colored signal flags so you'll understand the water conditions in the observed area. Check the beach town links below for current status of the flags.
Remember, If You Are In Doubt, Don't Go Out.
Description of Conditions
|Conditions are calm. Normal care and caution should be exercised.
|Moderate surf and/or currents are present. Weak swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. For others, enhanced care and caution should be exercised.
|Rough conditions such as strong surf and/or currents are present. All swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. Those entering the water should take great care. Wind and/or wave conditions are expected to support the development of very strong rip currents. This category implies that water conditions are life threatening to all people who enter the surf. There may be a high number of rescues on red flag days.
|Double Red Flag
|Water is closed to public use.
|Quartered Black and White Flag
|These flags will be used in pairs to indicate the boundaries of a designated swimming area where surfboards are prohibited. Swimmers are allowed between the flags - surfing is prohibited.
|Dangerous marine animals are nearby (e.g., jellyfish, Man O' War, etc.)
Check water conditions before going in by looking at the NWS Beach Forecast page before you leave for the beach and talking to the lifeguard at the beach.
Only swim at a beach with lifeguards. The chances of drowning at a beach with lifeguards are 1 in 18 million (U.S. Lifesaving Association).
Don't assume! Great weather for the beach does not always mean it's safe to swim or even play in the shallows. Rip currents often form on calm, sunny days. Watch Rip Current Survival Guide and ASL Rip Current Safety videos to learn what to do if you get caught in a rip current.
- Relax. Rip currents don't pull you under.
- A rip current is a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured as fast as 8 feet per second -- faster than an Olympic swimmer. Trying to swim against a rip current will only use up your energy; energy you need to survive and escape the rip current.
- Do NOT try to swim directly into to shore. Swim along the shoreline until you escape the current's pull. When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
- If you feel you can't reach shore, relax, face the shore, and call or wave for help. Remember: If in doubt, don't go out!
- If at all possible, only swim at beaches with lifeguards. Visit the Beach Town web page tab below for links to the Ocean Rescue and general government pages for each of the beach towns.
- If you choose to swim on beaches without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Take a friend and have that person take a cell phone so that person can call 911 for help.
What are scientists doing to keep swimmers safer? Find out in this video: Predict the Rip
Rip currents aren't the only deadly beach hazard. Learn more about dangerous waves and other hazards and why you should never to turn your back on the ocean.
Before you hit the beach, here are some things to know and tips to have a great day!
- Do not leave beach equipment like umbrellas, tents, canopies, chairs behind at the end of your day. These items can entangle wildlife and be dangerous at night. Take out what you bring in.
- Be sure to fill in any holes that you dig. Leave it better than how you found it. Holes can trap nesting sea turtles, be a tripping hazard for walkers, and can be a hazard for emergency 4WD vehicles responding to emergencies.
- The various Beach towns all have ordinances that govern the use of micro modal transportation and pedestrian safety. If you enjoy using a skateboard, a one-wheel, roller blades, etc. please check with the authorities in that town to make sure you understand the rules.
- Please bike safely! Bike safety and applicable rules are described here .
- Watch for golf carts and low speed vehicles on the roadways. Each Beach town has different rules that regulate the use of golf carts or Low Speed Vehicles. Please check with the authorities in the town you want to visit to make sure you understand the rules.
Pets and Service Animals
- Each NHC Beach community has ordinances that govern whether/when and under which conditions a pet is allowed on the sandy portion of the beach. Fines for ordinance violation can be significant. Please check the Beach town web page you'll be visiting via the links below to ensure you know the rules.
- Service Animals are welcomed at all public accommodations including public beaches. More can be understood about service animal rights/responsibilities on this info sheet from NC DHHS - Welcoming Your Customers Who Use Service Animals
- There is no safe way to confine your animal to your parked car while you are away. General Statue prohibits leaving the engine and AC running while a vehicle is unattended. Leaving your pet in a car can kill your pet and can result in a prosecution for cruelty.
Wildlife at the Beach
- Each Beach town has wonderful wildlife to enjoy and protect. A range of activities we may find fun and harmless can have a dramatic impact on wildlife and their habitat. Please consult with the local experts and authorities to better understand the rules and restrictions in place to protect wildlife.
- Sea turtles occasionally nest on local beaches. It's illegal to bother the turtle or to collect or otherwise disturb their nests. Be respectful of closures for the turtles or endangered bird nesting sites.
Please consult with the local lifeguards, experts and authorities before your visit to better understand the activities of local marine life and how best to enjoy them safely in the water and from the shoreline.
There are nine things you should be aware of when you go to the beach!
|Surfs Up! Check out surf conditions here.
Rip Current Risk
|The risk of rip currents is low, however, life threatening rip currents may still occur especially near groins, jetties, reefs, and piers. Always swim near a lifeguard and remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
|Life threatening rip currents are possible. Always swim near a lifeguard and remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
|Life threatening rip currents are likely. The surf zone is dangerous for all levels of swimmers. Stay out of the water. Remember to heed the advice of the local beach patrol and flag warning systems.
UV Index Scale
Some exposure to sunlight is enjoyable. But a sunburn can ruin a great beach day and it can have long term effects by damaging your skin and your eyes. You can even get a sunburn on cloudy days! Learn more about the UV Index Scale here.
|2 or less
Low danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person. Wear sunglasses on bright days. If you burn easily, cover up and use sunscreen.
Moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Take precautions, such as covering up, if you will be outside. Stay in shade near midday when the sun is strongest.
High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Protection against sunburn is needed. Reduce time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Take extra precautions. Unprotected skin will be damaged and can burn quickly. Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Take all precautions. Unprotected skin can burn in minutes. Beachgoers should know that white sand and other bright surfaces reflect UV and will increase UV exposure. Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seek shade, cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use sunscreen.
Thunderstorms and Waterspouts
Thunderstorms can pop up quickly and could be severe enough to spawn a tornado. Or, atmospheric conditions could be just right to spin off a fair-weather waterspout. Understand the risk and learn more about each below.
|No thunderstorms are expected
|No risk of waterspout development
|Thunderstorms are only expected to be isolated in coverage
|Low risk of waterspout development
|Thunderstorms are forecast to be scattered in coverage
|Moderate risk of waterspout development
|Thunderstorms are forecast to be numerous or widespread in coverage
|High risk of waterspout development
Before entering the water, talk with a lifeguard or beach patrol. No one will know the current water conditions better than they will.
Whenever possible, swim at beaches with lifeguards. The chances of drowning at a beach with lifeguards are 1 in 18 million. (U.S. Lifesaving Association)
What to Know
To stay safe, you need to stay aware of the weather, the ocean, tide, and what is going on around you. Watch the flags at the lifeguard stands.
Storms, such as thunderstorms, tropical storms, and hurricanes far out at sea can create dangerous waves and currents at the beach, even on a sunny day!
Even small waves can hit you with the force of a car! Getting knocked down or pinned to the sand can cause serious injury.
Steer Clear of the Pier!
- Many current-related incidents occur near piers, jetties, and breakwalls
- Waves near the pier are more chaotic, making it difficult to swim.
- You can easily be swept off jetty walls.
- Strong current near the pier can carry you out into deeper water.
- People fishing from the pier are not looking to hook you...they want bigger fish! You may get caught in lines or hurt while an angler is casting.
- Especially if the pier has been damaged in a storm, their could be debris in the water, as sure way to ruin a day at the beach.
Know how to swim.
What to Do
Before leaving for the beach, check the official surf zone forecast and/or beach advisories and closings here What to Do.
Be aware of changing weather conditions. When the life guards tell you to clear the beach because of incoming inclement weather, please gather your belongings, fill in any holes that have been dug, and leave the beach immediately. When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!
Know the address of the beach should you need to call for help, as well as the location of the life stations on the beach equipped with life rings that could be thrown to someone in trouble.
Swim near a lifeguard.
Drowning doesn't look like drowning...it is silent! Designate a water-watcher for your group who's sole responsibility is to watch swimmers in the water. And never swim alone.
Always remember: if you want to stay safe at the beach, respect the power of the ocean!
If you're boating, be prepared by having United States Coast Guard approved life jackets, as well as flotation devices like a boat flotation cushion with you.