Strong currents may exist. We strongly recommend that visitors recreating in or near the water wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket.
NPS Lifeguard Protected Beach
NPS Lifeguards supervise designated beach areas in Maryland and Virginia sections of Assateague. For a safe recreational experience, swim near an on duty lifeguard within the boundaries of the red over yellow flag. Hours of operation are from 10 am – 5pm seasonally. Take extra precaution when swimming outside the lifeguard area or during off duty hours; wear a life jacket.
Body Boards, Noodles, and other Flotation Aids can be considered a hazard in the ocean. Many drownings and rescue incidents are associated with the use of inappropriate flotation devices. Many people associate “safety” with flotation aids and feel safe going out much further than they should. Currents or wind can move an unsuspecting person into deep water or far off shore. This is an invitation to disaster; people may be separated from the device by waves, slipping off or choose to prematurely let go of the device to try and make better progress to shore.
Remember, flotation aids that move with waves travel with considerable speeds with the compound force of the wave behind you. The weight of a person on a speeding object may cause an injury if there is a collision with another person or the hard packed beach surface. Hard objects, such as surfboards, kayaks and skim boards can be especially hazardous. For these reasons, Coast Guard approved lifejackets are the only devices allowed on the lifeguard protected beach.
Onshore winds cause waves. Because ocean winds vary, waves change from day to day. All waves deserve respect. Body surfing and swim fins are allowed in the lifeguard area – be careful! Do not try to ride waves that are too forceful for your level of skill. Sand abrasions, broken limbs, dislocated shoulders and spinal injuries are not uncommon as a result of being thrown to the hard packed beach bottom.
Surf Zone Currents
There are two types of surf zone currents to be aware of; one that moves along the shore line called a longshore current and ones that move in a seaward direction called a seaward current.
Longshore Currents will form when waves approach the shoreline at an angle. This current is present on most days and may be strong. When lifeguards are on duty, they will post the speed and direction on beach information signs.
Seaward Currents will form as a result of wave action and wave energy. Seaward currents include back rush, fixed rip currents, permanent rip currents, traveling rip currents and flash rip currents. Do not panic if you get in one and do not wear yourself out trying to swim against it. Normally they are not wide. Swim parallel with the shore a short distance and then swim to shore out of the current. Save your strength for your own rescue. If you cannot get to shore, float on your back and control your breathing. Call for help and raise one arm up for attention.
The beach face and terrace change; a beach face may be steep or narrow. The trough between the terrace and sandbar may contain ridges and drop-offs. It is usually 8-10 feet deep at low tide. When the water is waist deep on a sandbar, it will often be over your head on the way out. For your protection, people are kept off the sandbar until it is reasonably safe for everyone to access the sandbar.
Thunder and Lightning
Go For a Swim in the ParkVisiting other National Parks and recreation areas? Check out these Water Safety Tips.
Last updated: May 2, 2023