Frequently Asked Questions

Rip Currents

What are rip currents?

Rip currents are channels of water that flow away from the shore. They usually are only a few hundred yards in length. Narrow yet strong, rip currents can pull swimmers and waders out to sea. They may look like a channel of churning, choppy water or a break in the incoming wave pattern. Sometimes they look like a brown, frothy path moving debris steadily seaward.

What should I do if I'm caught in a rip current?

First and foremost, do not panic. You will only tire yourself out. Then follow the steps below.

  • Swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip current.
  • If you cannot escape, float or tread water to conserve energy.
  • Wave your arms and yell for help.

Additional Safety Tips

What are some things I can do to be as safe as possible while swimming?

Please follow the steps below to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience at the beach.

  • Do not swim alone.
  • Do not swim at night.
  • Do not swim near fishing piers.
  • Children should swim only with adult supervision.
  • Swim at the lifeguarded beaches. They are staffed during summer months.
  • Do not swim near surfers. The surfboard can hit or cut you.
  • Never swim in or around inlets.
  • Do not swim during thunderstorms. Lightning does strike the beach.

What should I know about the weather?

The weather at the Outer Banks can be unpredictable. Storms and squalls come up quickly. Don't swim during thunderstorms. Lightning is extremely dangerous and does strike the beach! If you can hear thunder, seek shelter immediately, as lightning can strike up to 25 miles from an apparent storm. For current weather conditions contact the National Weather Service at 252-223-5737 or follow them.

What should I know about the hot temperatures?

A combination of high temperature and high humidity creates an even higher and possibly dangerous apparent temperature. With an air temperature of 90º Fahrenheit and a humidity of 80%, the apparent temperature is 113º Fahrenheit! Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are possible during elevated apparent temperatures. Enjoy the beach, but limit your physical activity and exposure during days of high heat and humidity. Drink water often.

What should I keep in mind about the sun?

Besides the heat, the sun's ultraviolet radiation can cause skin burns, which can lead to skin cancer. Be sure to apply sunscreen liberally before heading outdoors and remember to reapply often throughout the day.

What should I know about digging in sand?

Sand is a very unstable medium and is prone to collapsing. When playing in the sand, never dig a hole too deep where you find your head below the sand. Holes also pose a significant threat to people and wildlife alike enjoying the beach, especially during low-light conditions. Be mindful of this and always fill in any holes you dig before you leave the beach.

Should I be careful where I walk?

The seashore is beautiful, but often, on the beach and in the sound, you'll find dangerous debris. You may come across sharp objects such as broken seashells, crabs, cactus, and spurs. People add to that with glass, metal, fishhooks, and nails. Hot sand can burn unprotected feet. Think safety before leaving your vehicle. Protect your feet from these hazards.

What about bugs?

Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects serve a purpose in the scheme of things. Nonetheless, they are nuisances and can make your trip an unpleasant one. Be prepared with insect repellent and netting for camping and other island-related activities. Be sure to check yourself for ticks after being outdoors.

Should I be concerned about snakes?

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to several venomous snakes: timber rattlesnakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, Carolina pigmy rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. Be on the lookout for them and pay attention to the snake warning signs posted in areas of known snake habitat. Be safe and always keep your distance from all wildlife.

What do I need to know about jellyfish?

Jellyfish are present in the ocean waters. If stung by a jellyfish, seek first-aid if needed and pour vinegar on the wound to stop the stinging, but don't rub. Be safe and always keep your distance from all wildlife.

What do I need to know about sharks?

Sharks are a normal and important part of the natural surroundings we enjoy at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. However, the presence of these animals necessitates preparedness. Please follow the steps below to reduce the already extremely slim chance of encountering a shark.

  • Don't swim too far from shore
  • Stay in groups as sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual
  • Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight as sharks are most active at these times
  • Don't go into the water if bleeding from a wound as sharks have a very acute sense of smell
  • Leave shiny objects at home as the reflected light resembles fish scales
  • Avoid brightly colored swimwear as sharks see contrast particularly well

Shark encounters are still extremely unlikely, but use of the above recommendations will further reduce the chances of injury, and allow you to more safely share the park with these spectacular animals. Be safe and always keep your distance from all wildlife.


Beach Access

How can I access the beach with my vehicle?

For beaches open to off-road-vehicle use, a permit is required. Vehicles must be licensed, insured and registered. Permits can be purchased online at (search for Cape Hatteras ORV). ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles are not permitted on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches.

How can a person with disabilities access the beach?

Beach-capable wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Bodie Island Visitor Center, the Hatteras Island Visitor Center, and the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center. Special park use permits may be issued to visitors with disabilities to provide vehicular access to vehicle-free areas, though the vehicle used will require an off-road vehicle permit as well.

What does a beach closure mean?

Some parts of the beach may be closed for resource protection or safety reasons. Resource closures to protect nesting shorebirds and sea turtles may shrink or expand given the behavior and protection requirements of these wildlife species.


Spending Time Here

Where is camping allowed within the seashore?

Camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds. Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, Frisco, and Ocracoke Campground reservations can be made at or 877-444-6777.

Where are the RV dump stations located?

RV dump stations are located near Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, and Ocracoke Campgrounds.

Are alcoholic beverages allowed at the seashore?

North Carolina law does not permit spirituous liquors (distilled liquors, whiskey, vodka, etc.) or fortified wines to be consumed in public. The legal NC drinking age is 21. Open containers of alcohol are not permitted in any motor vehicle.

Is a fishing license required?

Yes. A North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License is required and is available at local tackle shops.

Can I use my personal watercraft in the seashore?

The trailering, launching, or landing of personal watercraft (such as a JetSki or Waverunner) is not allowed in the seashore.

Can I have a beach campfire?

A Beach Fire Permit is required. This permit is free and available at campgrounds or visitor centers. Beach fires are not allowed from 10 pm to 6 am. From May 1 to November 15, beach fires are only allowed on ocean beaches at Coquina Beach Day Use Area, Ocracoke Day Use Area, and the beaches in front of the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras.

Are pets allowed within the seashore?

Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6' at all times and are prohibited within any resource closure. Pets are not allowed in buildings.

How can I ensure I leave no trace?

Every evening, remove your umbrellas, canopies, chairs, etc., and fill any pits dug on the beach. This will help to prevent injuries to nighttime beachgoers, including sea turtles.

Can I use fireworks within the seashore?

Fireworks are not allowed in any National Park Service area.

Can I use a metal detector?

Use of metal detectors is prohibited.

Can I fly a kite or toss a frisbee?

Kite-flying or Frisbee and ball-throwing is allowed on beaches, except within or over any nesting shorebird closure.

Can I use an unmanned aircraft or drone within the seashore?

The launching, landing, or operating of unmanned aircraft/drones on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service is prohibited.

Are there any surfing restrictions?

For safety reasons, surfing is prohibited within designated swimming areas, specific areas near villages, and within 300 feet of fishing piers.

How I can learn about the ferries to and from Ocracoke Island?

To check on the latest ferry schedule, or to make reservations, go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Ferry Division website.

Can I ride my horse on the beach?

Horses may be ridden only in designated areas. Please read the HORSES AND PACK ANIMALS section of the Superintendent's Compendium for all the details.

Can I ride my bicycle within the seashore?

There are no established bike paths within the National Seashore. Highway 12 is a relatively narrow paved road with soft shoulders. Please use caution.

Where can I take my boat?

There are several marinas in the area which offer charter boat services and have boat launching ramps. National Park Service boat launching ramps are located near the Oregon Inlet Marina and near Silver Lake on Ocracoke Island.

Where can I go for a hike?

Signed nature trails in the seashore include: Hammock Hills Nature Trail (Ocracoke Island), Buxton Woods Nature Trail (Hatteras Island), and Bodie Island Dike Trail (Bodie Island).

Can I carry a firearm within the seashore?

For information on firearms, see our Law and Policy page.



What should I do if I encounter wildlife?

Leave wildlife alone and keep your distance. Do not feed or harass wildlife; for their safety and yours. If you are concerned about the welfare of the wildlife, contact our biologists at 252-216-6892 and leave detailed information about the wildlife and its location.

What are shorebirds?

Each spring and summer, scores of coastal birds find the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore an ideal place to find mates, nest, and raise their young. Some of these shorebirds (plovers and American oystercatchers) prefer solitary nests.

Other shorebirds (black skimmers, terns, and pelicans) prefer to group their nests into large colonies, and hence are called colonial nesters.

Several species of shorebirds are considered threatened, endangered, or a species of concern at either the state and/or federal level. These include the piping plover, Wilson's plover, American oystercatcher, common tern, least tern, black skimmer, and red knot.

In an effort to protect and promote the recovery of these species, during the breeding season (March through September) the National Park Service sets up closures to provide safe havens for these bird species to nest in and raise their young. These closures can change on a daily basis during the season, based on the daily bird activity seen by National Park Service biologists.

Do sea turtles visit Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

From May through September, four types of sea turtles (loggerhead, green, leatherback, and Kemp's ridley) may crawl out of the ocean during the night and lay nests anywhere along the beach. These female sea turtles will deposit around 100 eggs in the nest.

The incubation period for the eggs is roughly 60 days, and the temperature of the sand during that period determines the sex of the hatchlings. Warmer sands produce more female sea turtles, while cooler sands produce more male sea turtles.

After the incubation is complete, the hatchlings will burrow out of the nest and make their way to the ocean by following the light from the stars and the moon reflected off the ocean's surface. The National Park Service searches the beaches every morning for new nests during the nesting season, and put up a small closure around every nest to help protect it.

Around 50 to 55 days after the nest is laid, an expanded closure is established that runs down to the waterline, providing a more protected path from the nest to the ocean for hatchlings. If you spot a sea turtle on the beach, please alert park biologists by calling 252-216-6892.

For a full list of park regulations, you can review the Superintendent's Compendium.

Last updated: November 18, 2020

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Mailing Address:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


252 473-2111

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