Beach Safety

Welcome to North Carolina's Brunswick Islands, the perfect destination for beach lovers, with miles of un-crowded sand, surf, fun and sun. We want to make sure your vacation is carefree and casual. With that in mind, please take a moment to review some tips on staying safe on the shore and in the water.


At the beach, the sun is coming at you from all directions, including the sand and the water. A sunburn can happen in less than 20 minutes and ruin a whole week’s vacation. T-shirts and other light clothing offer little protection.

  • Apply a high SPF sunscreen before sunning, and every hour while you’re out. Don’t forget the back of your neck and ears.
  • Use a beach umbrella from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
  • Drink plenty of liquids (non-alcoholic) to avoid dehydration.
  • The first signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are subtle: tiredness, a feeling of being slightly-ill or slightly-nauseous. Get out of the sun, drink plenty of water, take a cool shower and stay off the beach for the rest of the day. North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has plenty of museums and indoor attractions for your entertainment!


Building sand castles and digging holes in the beach is great fun, but your handiwork can be a hazard for bike riders, walkers and even for sea turtles that can get blocked or trapped by them. Please level your sand castle and fill in any holes before you leave for the day. It is always important to stay off sand dunes and it is especially important not to dig holes around the dunes to avoid the possibility of a dune collapsing and trapping anyone in the hole.


  • Never swim alone. (See below for when to avoid swimming.)
  • Watch children carefully. If they aren’t swimmers, have them wear a flotation device.
  • Never turn your back on the waves – you never know when a big one will take you by surprise.
  • If you feel a very strong current when standing in shallow water, don’t swim there.
  • Avoid swimming within 300 feet of piers, surfers or fishermen casting lines or nets.
  • The passes between barrier islands can have some very strong currents. It’s often tempting to swim from one island to the next, but they’re farther apart than they seem.
  • Don’t get caught by surprise in a tidal pool when the tide is coming in. Check the tide tables every day.


Rip currents are fast-moving water channels that form when waves break onshore between barrier islands, sandbars or piers; gravity pulls the water forcefully and swiftly out to sea, a hazard for even the best swimmers.

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents can be difficult to see, but here are some clues:
  • a channel of churning, choppy water;
  • an area with a noticeable difference in color;
  • a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea;
  • and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern.

Even the strongest swimmer can’t swim against a rip current, but you can outsmart it:

  • Stay calm. Don’t fight by swimming straight back to shore, or you’ll risk tiring yourself out.
  • Swim sideways out of the current and parallel to the shore (see diagram). Then swim at an angle back to the shore.
  • If you’re still caught, float or tread water. The current will eventually dissipate. Even if you’re carried far out, if you haven’t worn yourself out fighting it, you should be able to slowly swim parallel and then at an angle back to shore. If your arms are too tired, swim on your back and use just your legs and feet to propel yourself to the beach.

If you see someone caught in a rip current, don’t try to rescue them yourself. Call 911; yell out the above instructions, and/or toss them a flotation device – it’s a good idea to take one to the beach on every visit. Here’s a link to the NOAA rip current forecast for our area beaches:

If you see beach safety flags, please take note of conditions.

Beach safety flags


Jellyfish can put the sting on your vacation. Always scan the water before splashing in. Make sure you educate your children about jellyfish, as they might touch them out of curiosity in the water or on the sand. In case of a sting, rinse off any remaining tentacles with salt water, not fresh, and use a credit card or other item to scrape, if necessary. Then rinse with vinegar, not fresh water. If you experience swelling, shortness of breath, or faintness, seek medical attention immediately.

The less common blue-purple Portuguese man o' war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore. It can deliver a painful sting even when dead. Portuguese man o' war stings are treated differently than jellyfish stings. First apply saltwater and then follow-up with hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.  Do not treat with vinegar. If necessary seek medical attention.   While the ocean is home to a wide variety of sea life including sharks, shark encounters are very rare.  According to the ISAF, Florida Museum of Natural History, the likelihood of a shark attack is 1 in 11.5 million. To put it in perspective, in North Carolina you would be 193 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a shark attack. 

Though chance encounters with sharks are highly unlikely, there are precautions you can take when swimming in the ocean:

  • Sharks actually try to avoid humans, but if you’re in murky water they may not see you.  Use extra caution.
  • Leave shiny jewelry on shore – to a shark it may look like fish scales.
  • Sharks see contrast particularly well so dark swimsuits are preferable to bright colored clothing.
  • Remember that you’re sharing the water with fish that attract sharks and other predators. Avoid swimming in the early morning, at dusk and at night when fish and sharks are feeding.
  • Avoid swimming between islands, and within 300 feet of surfers, piers, fishermen and where seagulls or other birds are diving and feeding.
  • Use caution around sandbars with steep drop-offs toward the ocean.
  • Avoid swimming alone, especially far from shore in deeper waters.
  • Avoid swimming if bleeding because a shark's sense of smell is highly sensitive.
  • Don't fish while standing more than knee deep in the surf.
  • Do not harass a shark - even nurse sharks can bite.
  • Do not enter water if sharks are around and calmly evacuate the water if any sharks are seen.

For the complete brochure on Shark Sense, click here:


Boating safety is a serious priority in North Carolina. Operating watercraft is both fun and safe when you observe the rules. For regulations and rules to be aware of when you bring your boat to our waters, please follow this link to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s boating regulations:

Public boating access areas and marinas are available throughout Brunswick Islands. If you’re planning to rent a fishing or pleasure boat or personal watercraft, our outfitters will include a safety course and checklist.

By educating yourself, your friends and family about sun and sea safety, you can ensure that everyone has a great vacation and can’t wait to return again soon!