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Rip Currents on the Outer Banks: How to Stay Safe this Summer

Photo: Pinterest

With summer in full swing and hurricane season in full force—as well as a series of storms being projected to cross paths with the coast of North Carolina in the coming days and weeks—it’s important to understand the dangers of rip currents on the Outer Banks and to find out what you can do to keep both yourself and your family safe at the beach this year. Whether you’re an experienced swimmer and think you have nothing to worry about while you’re riding the waves or you’re already cautious about venturing into the surf and want to be well aware of the risks posed by the water, taking a few minutes to learn what causes rip currents, how to spot them in the ocean and what to do if you’re caught in a rip current could ultimately save your life.

What is a Rip Current?

Photo: Modern Mom

Every year, rip currents claim the lives of dozens of people swimming along the coastlines of picturesque beaches around the world—and the Outer Banks is no exception. Frequently found along the shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, rip currents are extremely powerful channels of fast-moving water that pull water away from the edge of the beach and out into the ocean. These narrow channels flow perpendicular to the shoreline and most often form around breaks in sandbars and near structures such as fishing piers, groins and jetties.

Photo: Pinterest

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents typically reach speeds of 1 to 2 feet per second—meaning a swimmer caught in a rip current will be pulled 1 to 2 feet away from the shoreline and into the open ocean every second—but the dangerous currents have also been measured at speeds as fast as 8 feet per second, which the coastal agency says is faster than any Olympic swimmer ever recorded.   

Photo: Seaside Vacations

The U.S. Lifesaving Association estimates that as many as 80 percent of all rescues at ocean beaches are the result of swimmers being swept out to sea by these strong, localized surface currents—and approximately 100 people die each year when they get caught in a rip current and ultimately drown while trying to escape. Learning how to spot a rip current so you can avoid swimming in the area is key to protect yourself from becoming one of these statistics and will help prevent a crisis from occurring the next time you hit the beaches of the Outer Banks for some fun in the sun.

When Do Rip Currents Form?

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

Think rip currents only occur when the surf is rough or when the water is already churned up from coastal storm systems passing offshore? Think again. Rip currents can form in the water at any time—including when the ocean is seemingly calm on a deceptively bright and sunny day. According to NOAA, multiple rip currents of various sizes and speeds can develop in the water when wave activity is slight, and during periods of heavy wave action beachgoers will actually find fewer—but more concentrated—rip currents forming in the surf zone. Coastal scientists warn swimmers that spontaneous rip currents can form on any given day with no notice, so don’t be deceived into thinking the ocean is safe to swim in just because it appears to be calm on the surface.

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

In addition to being just as cautious about the presence of rip currents on the Outer Banks during calm days with minimal wave action as you are during days when the surf is rough and the development of rip currents seems more likely, you should also be on high alert for rip currents that materialize during periods of low tide. Although they are not directly caused by tide changes, rip currents frequently form along the beach during low tide—and these rip currents can prove to be even more dangerous to swimmers than rip currents that occur during high tide because the ocean water is already being sucked out to sea as the tide goes out.

How to Spot a Rip Current

Photo: Gulustan

So how do you spot a rip current so you know when to avoid wading out into the water? Because individual rip currents can vary dramatically in size and speed due to a variety of factors—such as wave conditions, tide changes and the shape of the beach upon which the surf is breaking—spotting a rip current is sometimes rather easy for people who know what to look for, but oftentimes the potentially deadly channel of fast-flowing water goes completely unnoticed by unsuspecting swimmers spending a day along the shoreline.

Photo: The Ecologist

In some cases, the exact location in which a rip current exists under the surface may actually be the same spot that appears to be the calmest place among the waves, luring many beachgoers who looking for a “safe” place to swim right into the treacherous current and catching them completely off guard. According to coastal hazards specialists, rip currents that are situated above a deep channel in a sandbar look like a calm patch of water when you’re standing on the beach or just inside the shallows. Don’t be fooled by this deceptively smooth area that is tucked between areas full of breaking waves to the right and left of it. And to truly play is safe this season, when you can’t quite tell if a rip current is present, take the old adage of “when in doubt, don’t go out” to heart.

Photo: Crocodive

If you do plan to swim in the ocean this summer, the U.S. Lifesaving Association advises beachgoers to look for a variety of characteristics of the surf that could signal a rip current is waiting right off the shoreline. One of the biggest indicators that a rip current is present is a narrow streak of muddy or sandy water in a certain spot that can often be seen from the beach or as you step into the waves. When a rip current is strong enough, the fast-moving water flowing churns up the sand along the ocean floor and drags it through the channel. Rip currents that disrupt the incoming ocean waves and stir up the sand and sediment on the seafloor are typically severe and therefore extremely dangerous—but because of this they can also sometimes be spotted from a distance, so keep an eye out for areas where no waves are breaking and the water appears to be muddy, and then avoid swimming in that location altogether.

Photo: iAlert

Just as swaths of the ocean’s surface that appear unusually calm compared to the wave action in surrounding spots can indicate that the seemingly smooth patch is actually a rip current, areas where the water is choppy, is a different color of water than the rest of the water around it, or that consists of a line of debris such as foam or seaweed can also be the sites of rip currents of varying degrees of severity. While a properly trained eye can easily recognize many of these situations when they occur to such a degree that they are visible from the shoreline, the U.S. Lifesaving Association cautions swimmers to remain aware of the fact that rip currents don’t all show up in the same manner—and that even if none of the above situations can be spotted in the sea, deadly rip currents can still be present around you.

Photo: Village Realty Outer Banks

Before you venture into the ocean for a day of fun in the sun swimming in the surf this summer, stop by the lifeguard stationed on the beach you’re visiting to find out the risk of rip currents in your area or any other dangerous conditions you need to be aware of that day. These first responders are specially trained to watch for the spontaneous development of rip currents as well as rapid changes in the risk level presented by swimming in the ocean on any given day. And to further eliminate your risk of being swept out to sea in a rip current, never swim in the ocean—or even wade in the shallows—on days when yellow caution flags or red “no swimming” flags are flying.

What to Do if You’re Caught in a Rip Current

Photo: Los Angeles County Fire Department

If you’re swimming in the ocean and get caught in a rip current, chances are it will happen so quickly that you won’t have time to react until you’ve already been swept a significant distance away from the shore. The key to surviving a rip current is to stay calm, refrain from panicking, and swim parallel to the shoreline (to the north or south of where you are) to escape the grip of the rip. The majority of swimmers who fall victim to these deadly currents ultimately drown from fatigue because too much energy is spent attempting to fight the current and paddle straight back to the shore.

Photo: National Weather Service

Despite how far the rip current may have swept you out to sea, do not panic once you realize what’s happening. Remain calm and clearheaded, signal for help if you are able to, and swim sideways out of the current—not right back into the flow of water moving at speeds that could push you several feet further offshore every single second. Although some currents are so strong swimmers can be carried hundreds of yards offshore, according to NOAA, most rip currents are not more than 80 feet wide and dissipate just beyond the breaking waves. If you are unable to break out of the current and swim parallel to the shoreline right away, stay calm and allow the current to carry you until it dissipates—then paddle parallel to the shoreline and away from the current before swimming back to the beach at an angle.

Photo: NOAA

For years, rip currents have been incorrectly referred to as “riptides” or the “undertow,” causing many people to mistakenly believe that getting caught in a rip current means they will be pulled under the surface of the water and swept out to sea. Unlike riptides—which are a specific type of swift current that flows through inlets, harbors and the mouths of estuaries—and the undertow, which refers to a current that pulls swimmers down along the bottom of the seafloor, rip currents are surface currents that pull you straight out into the ocean but not underneath the water. A strong rip current can quickly knock you off your feet when it strikes in shallow water; however, you will most likely not be dragged under the surface of the ocean unless you panic, thrash around in the waves and end up disoriented. When you’re caught in a rip current, relax your body and allow the current to keep you near the surface until you can safely swim parallel to the shoreline and save yourself from this potentially deadly force of nature.

Photo: AccuWeather

Regardless of how experienced you may be when it comes to swimming, rip currents are incredibly powerful and must be taken extremely seriously by beachgoers. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, your chances of drowning at a beach with a lifeguard present are just 1 in 18 million, so avoid swimming in the ocean at beaches that don’t offer the protection of professional lifeguards or ocean rescue teams—and make sure you only venture into the surf during the times of day when lifeguards are on duty. If you educate yourself on the dangers of rip currents on the Outer Banks, stay aware of your surroundings at all times, and respect the power of the ocean, this year’s summer vacation on the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina will be one you’ll remember forever for all the right reasons.

The Top Dog-Friendly Attractions Along the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Photo: Stephanie Banfield

With more than 200 miles of seashore stretching along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean to the east as well as the Currituck, Roanoke and Pamlico sounds to the west, the Outer Banks of North Carolina offers something for everyone to enjoy—including the four-legged members of your family. From the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern tip of Hatteras Island, you’ll find dozens of pet-friendly Outer Banks attractions that welcome your furry friend to tag along on your adventures.

If you wouldn’t dream of leaving your four-legged family members at home while you spend your summer vacation on the barrier islands, be sure to scope out the following dog-friendly places on the Outer Banks the next time you visit:

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Photo: Pinterest

Stretching 100 feet into the sky and covering a 420-acre area along the shores of the Roanoke Sound in Nags Head, Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest “living” sand dune system in the eastern United States. The colossal mound of sand that makes up this popular state park is best-known for providing a prime spot for outdoor adventurers to take to the air while hang-gliding down from the top of the ridge. But hang-gliding isn’t the only form of outdoor recreation Jockey’s Ridge has to offer.

Photo: WAVY TV

The park comprises three unique ecosystems—the sand dunes, a maritime thicket and an estuary at the edge of the sound—which are home to a wide array of native species of wildlife. Leash up your four-legged friend and go for a hike along one of the three self-guided nature trails that weave through the scenic parklands. During your journey you’ll have the chance to spoteverything from white-tailed deer and red foxes to raccoons, luna moths and six-lined racerunner lizards.

Pet rules in Jockey’s Ridge State Park: Dogs are permitted throughout Jockey’s Ridge State Park, with the exception of inside the buildings. Dogs must be on a leash at all times, and leashes should not be longer than 6 feet. Learn more about Jockey’s Ridge State Park here.

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

Photo: Outer Banks This Week

Another must-visit dog-friendly Outer Banks attraction located within the oceanside community of Nags Head is the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the busy beaches, this hidden gem boasts 1,400 acres of maritime forest, sand dunes and saltmarshes just waiting to be explored by you and your furry family members. The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve was established in the 1970s when area conservationists came to the realization that the vast majority of land on the barrier islands was undergoing massive development to accommodate the booming tourism industry on the beaches of the Outer Banks.

Photo: The Nature Conservancy

In 1974, the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve was designated as a National Natural Landmark, guaranteeing the forever protection of the unique series of ecosystems it encompasses and the assortment of wildlife that call the confines of the preserve home. This unspoiled natural area—which lies along the shoreline of the Roanoke Sound on the western side of the island—is bordered by Jockey’s Ridge State Park to the south and Run Hill State Natural Area to the north. Visitors can traverse the park via seven marked nature trails, each of which winds its way through the lush maritime forest, over the rolling sand dunes and past a series of freshwater ponds. While you’re hiking, keep an eye out for the more than 50 species of birds, 15 species of amphibians, 30 species of reptiles, 50 species of butterflies and 550 species of plant life that make up this one-of-a-kind ecological preserve.

Pet rules in the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve: All dogs much be on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet in length. Leashed pets are permitted on trails 4, 5, 6 and 7. Learn more about the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve here.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Photo: National Park Service

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are famous for being the site upon which an array of historic events have taken place over the years. From the mysterious disappearance of the Lost Colony in the 16th century to the spot where the infamous pirate named Blackbeard met his demise, the barrier islands are brimming landmarks and attractions that highlight the area’s rich history. But perhaps the most significant historic event to ever occur on the Outer Banks was the world’s first powered flight, achieved by brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright on Dec. 17, 1903.

Photo: Trip Advisor

Situated in the heart of Kill Devil Hills, the Wright Brothers National Memorial pays homage to the unprecedented achievement and the pair who forever altered the world of aviation well over a century ago. When you visit the site you’ll discover an enormous monument that sits atop a huge hill in the middle of the park, as well as a visitors center, a series of exhibits and the “flight line” that shows the landing spots along the path where the Wright Brothers attempted several flights that day before finally reaching success with the fourth. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, leash up your dog and head up the hill to the base of the monument overlooking the memorial grounds. From here you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Roanoke Sound to the west and the town that stretches out below.  

Pet rules at the Wright Brothers National Memorial: Pets are permitted on the grounds of the Wright Brothers National Memorial but not inside any buildings. Pets must be on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet in length.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Photo: REAL Watersports

When it comes to the best beaches in the United States, nothing can compare with the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And if you’re searching for wide expanses of sandy shoreline, windswept sand dunes topped with sea oats, uncrowded and undeveloped beaches, and scenery that is unmatched by anywhere else on the East Coast, be sure to check out the area’s crown jewel: the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Extending more than 70 miles from South Nags Head and Hatteras Island to the southernmost tip of Ocracoke Island, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore encompasses nearly 25,000 acres of preserved and protected natural habitats. along the sea and sound. Whether you explore the national seashore by boat, bicycle, kayak, car or on foot, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a wealth of activities including kiteboarding, surfing, swimming, fishing, crabbing, shell-hunting, wildlife-watching, sightseeing and so much more.

Photo: Dhinoy Studios

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is also home to one of the most iconic landmarks in the country: the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Built in 1803 and standing 210 feet tall, the structure is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and has served as a navigational aid that has helped mariners to safely navigate the constantly shifting diamond shoals off the coast of Cape Hatteras for centuries. For an unforgettable Outer Banks experience, climb all 257 steps to the top of the lighthouse to take in the spectacular 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound and surrounding villages below. 

Photo: Surf or Sound Realty

When your climb is complete, leash up your dog and venture south toward Cape Point via the pristine stretch of seashore that is commonly referred to as “Buxton beach.” Here you’ll find the spot where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse originally stood—before it was moved farther inland in 1999 in an effort to save it from falling into the sea—as well as unparalleled opportunities for spotting wildlife, finding seashells and simply enjoying a leisurely stroll along one of the most beautiful barrier island beaches in the entire world with your four-legged friend.  

Pet rules for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Pets are welcome along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but are prohibited inside any marked closures (such as bird and sea turtle nesting areas) and inside buildings. Pets must remain on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet.

**Stay tuned to our next blog to discover the many dog-friendly restaurants on the Outer Banks of North Carolina!

 

Where to Watch the Fireworks on the Outer Banks in 2018

Photo: OBX.com

Whether you’re vacationing on the Outer Banks for the Fourth of July this year or you’re a local who lives here year-round, watching the various fireworks displays that take place from Corolla to Kill Devil Hills to Roanoke Island is an excellent way to officially kick off your summer at the beach. If you’re searching for the best places to see the fireworks on the Outer Banks in 2018, we’ve got everything you need to know:

NAGS HEAD

One of the best Outer Banks fireworks displays you’ll find this summer is the Nags Head “Fireworks Spectacular,” which will be held at 9:25 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, at the Nags Head Fishing Pier. Presented by the Town of Nags Head, the Nags Head Fishing Pier and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, this popular annual event features a one-of-a-kind display of fireworks over the Atlantic Ocean that will last for approximately 25 minutes.

Photo: Rick Anderson Photography

The Nags Head Fishing Pier is located at milepost 11.5 on the beach road, but you don’t have to park at the pier itself to see the show. For an equally amazing view of the fireworks in Nags Head, head to the public beach accesses at Curlew Street, Hollowell Street and Conch Street (all south of the Nags Head Fishing Pier) or to the beach accesses at Bladen Street, Bittern Street, Bonnett Street, Barnes Street and Blackman Street (all north of the Nags Head Fishing Pier) to watch the fireworks show that takes place along the shoreline. If you’re feeling more adventurous, climb to the top of Jockey’s Ridge to experience the Nags Head fireworks from a truly unique location that offers stunning 360-degree views of the barrier island, including the Atlantic Ocean, Roanoke Sound and the Town of Nags Head below.

KILL DEVIL HILLS

PHoto: Ramada Plaza of Nags Head

Not to be outdone by the fireworks display in Nags Head this summer, the Town of Kill Devil Hills will also host its annual Fourth of July fireworks event over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday. For its 2018 festivities, the Kill Devil Hills fireworks will be presented by an award-winning fireworks company out of New Castle, Pennsylvania, called Pyrotechnico.

Photo: Outer Banks Sentinel

The Kill Devil Hills fireworks will begin at dusk (approximately 8 p.m.) at the Avalon Fishing Pier, which is situated at milepost 6 on the beach road. Spectators are invited to grab their beach chairs or blankets and set up shop on the beach to watch an evening of unforgettable fireworks along the edge of the ocean. Parking at the Avalon Fishing Pier is limited, but several nearby public beach accesses with plenty of parking—including the Fifth Street beach access a half-mile to the south and the Hayman Boulevard beach access just a half-mile to the north—are also excellent spots for viewing the Kill Devil Hills fireworks display this season.

DUCK

Photo: Rick Anderson Photography

Few locations on the Outer Banks offer a more spectacular day of celebrations for the Fourth of July than the Town of Duck. The festivities will kick off at 9 a.m. with the 14th Annual Fourth of July Parade, which begins on Scarborough Lane and follows a one-mile route that winds toward the Atlantic Ocean along Ocean Way and Christopher Drive before ending up at Pamela Court. Following the popular Fourth of July Parade in Duck, visitors are invited to gather at Duck Town Park for a performance by a live Dixieland Band, free watermelon from Green Acres Farm Market, refreshments and an award ceremony honoring the 2018 parade float winners.   

COROLLA

Photo: Outer Banks Events Calendar

If you want to celebrate the Fourth of July in Corolla, head to Historic Corolla Park for a variety of family-friendly festivities that begin at 3 p.m. The 26th Annual Independence Day Celebration at Historic Corolla Park will feature live music, food vendors, a cornhole tournament, a watermelon-eating contest and several children’s games. The festivities will be capped off with the Corolla fireworks display at dusk.

Photo: Vacations Made Easy

Admission and parking for the 26th Annual Independence Day Celebration at Historic Corolla Park are free. Keep in mind that no alcohol, coolers or on-street parking is permitted during the event. The boat ramp at Historic Corolla Park will also be closed, and therefore no docking at this location will be allowed. For more information about the Fourth of July activities in Corolla, go to www.VisitCurrituck.com/Events or call 252-435-2947.

MANTEO/ROANOKE ISLAND

Photo: Matt Lusk Photography

If you’re looking for a little Fourth of July adventure on Roanoke Island, head to downtown Manteo for a fun-filled day of festivities. The celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. at Roanoke Island Festival Theater with a free children’s concert presented by the 208th Army Band.

Photo: Town of Manteo
Photo: WUNC

Manteo’s 2018 event also includes the Independence Day Parade, which will start lining up at 2:45 p.m. at the Magnolia Market before making its way down Queen Elizabeth Street. Attendees are invited to participate in the parade by donning a wacky hat or riding a decorated bike or golf court—all of which will be judged to see which participant has the best patriotic-themed entry. The paradise itself will begin at 3:15 p.m. at the intersection of Queen Elizabeth Street and Ananias Dare Street, winding its way through town and eventually ending at George Washington Creef Park at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. Judging of the patriotic entries will take place at the park at the conclusion of the parade, and winners will then be announced.

Photo: OBX Guides

A wide array of additional activities will take place throughout Manteo’s Fourth of July celebration, including a 3:30 p.m. performance by The Lost Colony Choir at the Boathouse Stage within the outdoor pavilion at Roanoke Island Festival Park. The Firecracker Cornhole Tournament will take place in the park beginning at 4 p.m. Registration for the cornhole tournament opens at 3:30 p.m., and teams of two in age groups of 10-15 and 16 and up are invited to compete for the grand prize, which will be presented at the conclusion of the tournament.

Photo: OuterBanks.org

Challenge your friends and family to a little friendly competition with the town’s Sparkler Watermelon Eating Contest, which will begin at 5 p.m. and is open to two separate age groups: ages 10-15 and ages 16 and up. The participant who consumes all of the required amount of watermelon in the shortest amount of time—without using their hands—will win the grand prize, which will be announced and presented to the winner at 5:30 p.m.

Photo: Outer Banks Events Calendar

Enjoy a live performance by the Echoes of Heritage on the Boathouse Stage at 4:30 p.m., followed by a 5:30 p.m. by The Crowd, which will take place on the same stage until 7:30 p.m. Challenge the best baker in your family to whip up their best homemade apple pie and enter the town’s annual American Apple Pie Contest. Entries must be submitted at the park tent by 4 p.m. on July 4. After the apple pie judging session, contest winners will be announced at 5:30 p.m.

Photo: Eillu Real Estate

As the afternoon’s activities wind down, the 208th Army Band will once again return to the stage at 8 p.m. to play a series of patriotic songs at Roanoke Island Festival Park’s outdoor pavilion. A variety of food vendors will also be situated on-site, selling delicious items ranging from funnel cakes, barbecue and sausages to lemonade, fries and slushies. Following the musical celebration, the Fourth of July event will culminate with a stunning fireworks display presented by the Town of Manteo and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. The fireworks show along the Manteo waterfront begins at dark, and visitors can watch an array of spectacular colors shooting into the sky from a barge that will be docked in the nearby Shallowbag Bay. Gather the family, pack up your beach chairs and blankets, and head to the historic town of Manteo on Wednesday afternoon to enjoy some of the most exciting activities and the best fireworks on the Outer Banks this season!

 

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