Swimming Safety

The ocean is a wonderful place to swim—if you are careful. Swimming in the ocean is not the same as swimming in a pool or lake. Wind, waves, the change of the tide, the slope of the beach and other factors can cause strong currents to be present in the water even on the calmest days.

Ocean conditions can change from day to day and from hour to hour. Before going in the water, spend a few moments watching the waves. Wave patterns are a good indicator of the presence of currents and where deep water and other "surprises" are located. Know what to expect before you go in the water.
Be safe by following these tips for ocean swimming.
  • When available, swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.
  • Always swim with a buddy, and have adult supervision for all children.
  • Know the various types of ocean currents and how to get out of them.
  • Use US Coast Guard-approved flotation vests if a weak or non-swimmer.
  • Avoid wearing shiny objects that may attract sharks and other fish.
  • Stay alert by checking the daily NOAA Rip Current Hazard Forecast, watching the weather, staying sober, looking out for rip currents, watching for jellyfish.
  • Avoid swimming where danger is present: in rough seas, in inlets, around fishing piers and surfers, at night, or during thunderstorms.
 
Rip Currents
Underwater sandbars often develop offshore forming a trough of water between the bar and the beach. Rip currents form when the sand bar breaks and the trapped water funnels out to the sea through the break, sometimes sweeping swimmers with it.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, don’t swim against the current. Instead, remain calm and swim across the current, parallel to the shore, slowly working your way back to the beach at an angle. Signal for help if you need it. Learn more by exploring the WebRanger rip current activity.
Before heading to the beach, check the daily NOAA Rip Current Hazard Forecast.
 
Lifeguarded Beaches
There are four beach locations along Cape Hatteras National Seashore that are staffed with lifeguards during summer months from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, 9 am to 5 pm, seven days a week.

The locations are:
  • Bodie Island: Coquina Beach
    Located across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse site. For the 2020 season, lifeguards are available through September 30.
  • Hatteras Island: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach
    Adjacent to the Old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site. Lifeguards are available through Labor Day.
  • Hatteras Island: Frisco Beach
    Located just south of Frisco Village. For the 2020 season, lifeguards are available through September 30.
  • Ocracoke Island: Ocracoke Beach
    1 1/2-miles south of the NPS campground OR 1/2-mile north of Ocracoke Village. For the 2020 season, lifeguards are available through September 30.

Lifeguards can answer questions on swimming safety and weather conditions.

Last updated: September 4, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954

Phone:

(252) 473-2111

Contact Us