Naturally the beach is the greatest attraction Nags Head has to offer. From solitary walks along the shore to rollicking good times in the waves, her majesty steals the show. We know that all visitors here understand how to enjoy the beach and ocean. It's a large part of why you chose the Outer Banks for a visit, right? So, here, we would like to give you a few water safety tips and other information you need to stay safe and secure while you're on these shores.
Mercurial by nature, the great Atlantic's temperature and condition vary depending on the season or which way the wind is blowing -- at times moving toasty and calm Gulf Stream waters close to shore, at times rough and rolling. Maximize your pleasure by following time-worn and essential safety precautions. Approach the sea with care: Walk or wade into the water rather than running or diving. Remember to face the waves. If red flags are flying, swimming is prohibited. Swim team champion or not, stay out of the water when the red flags fly, even if you see surfers out there! The weather may seem lovely, but the ocean is unsafe under red flag warning. Strong currents and shifting sand add an unpredictable curve when judging the sea's condition. Read all safety tips at the lifeguard stands. Keep an eye peeled for rip currents. These are slender currents that flow outward from the shore, usually at a break in the sandbar. They exhibit wave action on both sides, a deeper channel that can have a choppy center with cloudy water flowing outward past the breaking waves. Don't panic if caught in one. Swim parallel to shore until you are out of the current, and then let the waves help you back into shallow water.
A word on sharks: They are native to our waters, but more people die from bee stings each year then shark attacks. Stay out of the water if you are bleeding. Don't carry or disperse bloody bait chum if you wade or swim to a sandbar to fish. Avoid swimming at low light, especially evenings and late nights as sharks feed at low light times like dawn and dusk.
Give wide berth to schooling or feeding fish. You usually can see this action as they churn up the water and attract a bevy of circling gulls. Some, such as bluefish, have sharp teeth! Get out of the water and grab a pole instead for some exciting fishing action.
Bring your favorite beach toys – surfboard, boogie board or fishing tackle - or rent equipment while you're here. Surfing is prohibited within 75 yards on either side of a fishing pier. Surfboard leashes are required. Remember to body surf and body board with your hands in front riding across the waves, and only ride waves that break in open water. You can launch a personal watercraft from the ocean in Nags Head with manpower but no wake until 600 feet out. You also must not ride within 600 feet of a pier. (Launching of a PWC is not allowed anymore at Oregon Inlet because of a ban by the National Park Service.) Beach driving is allowed between October 1 and April 30. But you have to get a permit at the Town Hall to drive an off-road vehicle on the beach. The beach is a great place to get exercise for you and your pets. Dogs are allowed on the beach in Nags Head if they are on a leash 6 feet or less at all times. Do clean up after your pooch, though.
Beach fires offer romance, but permits are part of the package. You can pick one up at the Nags Head Fire Departments on the Bypass at MP 14.5 or 18.5, after 5 p.m. on the day the fire is requested. You'll need a picture ID, your address and location of the fire to get the permit. Fires are not permitted if the winds are 10 knots or more. They can't be built within 50 feet of any combustible material. The hollowed out pit can't be larger than three feet in diameter or smaller than one foot deep. An adult must be in attendance. The fire must be completely extinguished before leaving it. And all debris/refuse from the gathering must be completely removed. Permits expire at midnight, so all fires must be extinguished.
Beach adventures usually involve sandcastles and hole digging. Use caution since sand is unstable and can cave in on you. Make sure you fill in your excavations so unsuspecting walkers don't trip or fall into your handiwork.
If you're not staying in an oceanfront house and want to get to the beach, there are 40 public beach accesses that range from the unguarded and unpaved to those with lifeguards, handicap parking, bathhouses, showers and wood walkways. Lifeguards are on duty on fixed stands and patrolling all terrain vehicles from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. The patrolling lifeguards continue through October 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.