Subscribe RSS Icon | What is RSS
Date: June 28, 2006
Contact: Outer Banks Group, (252)473-2111

Rough surf conditions routinely produce life-threatening rip currents capable of overtaking even the strongest swimmers and surfers. The National Park Service offers the following information and tips to help Outer Banks visitors avoid this potentially deadly ocean hazard. Rip currents are channels of water that develop in an opening in a sand bar. Though relatively narrow near the beach, rip currents can increase to over 50 yards in width as they extend up to 1000 feet offshore. The velocity of the water can be as high as 5 mph. Rip currents can be identified before entering the water. Look for an area of murky water due to sediment mixing as the channel opened in the sandbar. If the rip current has lasted a long time, the color of the water will appear darker than the surrounding water because of the channel carved by the flowing water. Rip currents will also move objects and/or foam steadily seaward and will cause a break in the incoming wave pattern. The most common mistake of those caught in a rip current is to panic and attempt to swim directly back toward the shore. Even the best Olympic swimmers can not successfully swim towards the shore in the strongest rip currents. Rip currents can pull a swimmer away from the shore but not under the water. Safety Tips * Stay out of the water during dangerous surf conditions. *Know how to swim. Non-swimmers should not rely on floats, such as boogie boards, while in deep water. * Always swim near a lifeguard. * Locate rip currents before entering the water. * Tune in to NOAA weather radio and monitor websites (National Weather Service, Eastern Dare County, NC) and local media for updated surf conditions during your stay on the Outer Banks. * Check with the lifeguards about rip currents and other hazardous conditions. * Do not attempt to rescue someone caught in a rip current. Notify a lifeguard or, if there is no lifeguard, yell directions on how to escape, throw the victim something that floats, and call 911. What to do if caught in a rip current: * Remain calm. Remember, it will not pull you under. * Swim parallel to the shore until you break free, then swim diagonally toward the shore. * If you cannot swim out of the current, float until it weakens, then swim diagonally toward the shore. * Summon help by waving your hands. For more information on rip currents, ask a lifeguard or check the website at

Last updated: April 14, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


(252) 473-2111

Contact Us