Hatteras Island Beaches Safety Information
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches are routinely named on Dr. Steven Leatherman's (aka Dr. Beach) annual Top 10 list of the nation's best beaches. It's a worthy honor – the beaches here are wide and flat with white sand and few crowds.
In North Carolina all of the beach below the high-tide mark is public property. So you can enjoy any part of the beach as long as you get there legally. Public beach accesses are located along N.C. Highway 12 throughout Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and there are numerous accesses in the villages. Do not access the beach via private property, i.e., cutting through private oceanfront yards to get there.
There are two lifeguarded beaches on Hatteras Island at the northern end at Coquina Beach and at the Hatteras Island Lighthouse beach in Buxton. Guards are on duty from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Many visitors are surprisingly unaware of the dangers of ocean swimming. Always regard the ocean with a sense of caution, no matter how good a swimmer you are.
Rip currents, which suck objects and people from shore toward sea, are the biggest threat swimmers may encounter. The most important thing to remember about rip currents is not to try to swim against them directly back to shore. Let the rip carry you out, then swim parallel to the beach to get out of the current, then swim diagonally into shore. Educational materials about rip currents and other ocean dangers are available in local visitor centers. It’s a good idea to carry some sort of flotation device with you when swimming, like a surfboard, body board or raft, but you can’t totally depend on those for safety. Drownings have occurred when non-swimmers lost the rafts or body boards they were depending on for flotation.
Another important thing about ocean swimming: Never take your eyes off your children, even if they’re just wading in the surf. Children can be knocked down by waves and washed into the sea in the blink of an eye. We’re not trying to discourage anyone from ocean swimming. Most days on Hatteras Island ocean swimming is safe and wonderful. Just be cautious and educated before going into the water.
If you are unsure about ocean swimming or if the day is particularly rough, you can also swim in the shallower, calmer waters of the Pamlico Sound. The sound is a good place for children and not-so-strong swimmers. It’s a good idea to wear some kind of water shoes, however, so you won’t cut your feet on oyster shells or other debris. There are several soundside beaches within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The most easily accessible are the Salvo Day Use area just south of Salvo and the Haulover area just south of Avon. Otherwise, if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, there are several sand trails in Cape Hatteras National Seashore that lead back to soundside beaches. Pick up an Off-Road Driving Map, available at National Park Service Visitor Centers.
Note: For disabled visitors, Cape Hatteras National Seashore loans out beach wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis. For information call (252) 473-2111.