Rip currents, commonly called rip tides and mistakenly undertows, are strong currents of water running out to sea. Rips are formed by water in the form of waves washing up onto the beach. Gravity pulls this water back out to sea forming a narrow channel or passageway with a river-like current moving away from shore. They can be 50 feet to 50 yards or more wide, and can flow to a point just past the breaking surf or hundreds of yards offshore. These powerful currents can pull even the most experienced swimmer. Most drowning deaths occur when people caught in the current try to swim against the current directly toward shore, becoming exhausted. Many times, the would-be rescuers are also caught and drown.

Look out for:
• A darker water color because the water is deeper
• Water that appears dirty (from sand being churned up by the current)
• A calm rippled surface, generally with smaller waves
• Foam or other objects moving steadily seaward
• Water that may feel colder than the surrounding water
• Check with the lifeguard on surf conditions before swimming
• If you are not a strong swimmer, go no further than knee-deep

If you get caught in a rip current:
• DON’T PANIC. Tread water or float. (A rip current is not an “undertow” and will not pull you under)
• Don’t try to swim against the current directly toward shore.
• Call out or wave for help.
• Once out past the breakers, swim parallel to shore until out of the current, then diagonally toward shore.

(also called undertow) on a steeply sloping beach can pull you toward deeper water, but their power is swiftly checked by incoming waves. To escape these currents swim straight in if you’re a strong swimmer. If not, wait and float until the currents stop, then swim in. If the currents take you out through incoming waves, they are seaward currents.

(also called alongshore currents) are evidenced by waves breaking at an angle. These common currents move southward. To escape the current swim straight in or at a slight angle with the currents.

(also called seaward tides) are dangerous, though not as common as backwash and littoral currents. Rip currents will carry a swimmer out from shore, sometimes at an angle. To escape these currents, swim to the side, in the direction of the littoral currents. When free of the currents, swim straight in. Never try to swim against rip currents.

Red Flags

A red flag on the beach indicates that ocean conditions are not safe for swimming. All forms of water activity are prohibited. Any entry into the water when red flags are flying shall be a misdemeanor punishable by fine of not more than $500 or not more than 30 days imprisonment. Surfboards at least five feet in length and equipped with a leash are exempted. (Currituck County Ordinance chapter 9, Article 1, section 9-5) Due to theft, the red flags are taken down at the end of the lifeguards’ duty hours. This does NOT mean that conditions are safe to enter the water. Please know that the red flags are for your own safety and the safety of our rescue personnel.

Off-Road Vehicles
You are more than welcome to enjoy our northern beaches via 4WD vehicle. The vehicle must be licensed and registered in order to be driven on the beach. There are a few things to keep in mind while driving on the northern beaches:

• The beach is a road. Please follow all posted speed limits. (35 mph, 15 mph when within 300 feet of pedestrians)

• Vehicles parked on the beach must be parked in the area east of the dune line and west of the hard packed sand strip, adjacent to the water’s edge. No chairs, coolers, fishing lines, holes, trenches, or any other items are permitted to block the foreshore. This would restrict vehicular movement in a north-south direction along the dune line or along the water’s edge.

• No vehicle of any type may park or unload at the North Beach Access at any time. This must be done on the beach past the 1/2 mile mark. VIOLATORS SHALL BE TOWED. Operators must be 16 years of age and possess a valid driver’s license.

• It is recommended that you decrease your tire pressure to 15-20 psi before crossing the beach access ramp.

• Be aware of the tides. The beach road becomes very narrow at high tide and people have been known to lose their cars if they aren’t careful!

• There are no public restrooms on the northern beaches. Public urination is prohibited in Currituck County.

• While on the northern beaches, you may come in contact with our famous wild horses. Keep in mind, they are wild – do not approach them. County ordinance states that you may not come within 50 feet of the horses at any time.

• Please help keep our beaches clean by removing all trash from the beach when you leave.

• Beach Driving is prohibited from May 1 to October 1 parallel to paved road (south of the beach access ramp).

• All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are no longer allowed on the beaches of Currituck County, except for residents and property owners. Contact the County Manager’s office for more information, (252) 232-2075.

Personal Watercraft (Jet Skis)

Launching of personal watercraft is prohibited on the Atlantic Ocean side of Currituck County, but you may enjoy your personal watercraft in the Currituck Sound. Public ramps are located at the Whalehead Club.


Currituck County has a county-wide leash law. Your pet must be on a leash at all times. And remember, please clean up after your pet!


Beach fires are illegal on the Currituck Outer Banks. Also, glass is not permitted on the beach.

Beach Camping

NO overnight camping of any type is allowed on any Currituck Beach.


Currituck Beach Public Parking
NO STREET PARKING, towing is heavily enforced

• Currituck Southern Beach Access (471 Ocean Trail, Shower & Bathroom Facilities)
• Sailfish St. and Whalehead Dr.
• Bonito St. and Whalehead Dr.
• Perch St. and Whalehead Dr.
• Sturgeon St. and Whalehead Dr.
• Shad St. and Whalehead Dr.
• Currituck Beach Lighthouse Ramp and State Access

Public Boat Ramp

Whalehead Club (follow road to the end of the parking lot)

Tennis Courts

Pine Island Racquet Club (252) 453-8525

Mileage to the Currituck Outer Banks
from U.S. and Canadian Cities

• Asheville, NC – 480 mi.
• Atlanta, GA – 629 mi.
• Baltimore, MD – 339 mi.
• Boston, MA – 662 mi.
• Charlotte, NC – 372 mi.
• Cincinnati, OH – 689 mi.
• Montreal, Quebec – 796 mi.
• Nashville, TN – 784 mi.
• New York, NY – 453 mi.
• Philadelphia, PA – 390 mi.
• Raleigh, NC – 235 mi.
• Richmond, VA – 195 mi.
• Toronto, Ontario – 860 mi.
• Washington, D.C. – 298 mi.