A trip to North Carolina’s beautiful beaches is an enjoyable and memorable experience for many visitors and families. Whether you’re going swimming, sailing or surfing, taking strolls in the sand, laying out to catch some sun or participating in one of the many different activities offered at our coastal attractions, we want your time at the beach with your family to be as safe as it is fun. Make sure you review the beach safety information provided below before heading out.
General Beach Regulations
The Town of Emerald Isle provides beach regulations that locals and residents alike should follow to ensure that your time at the beach is as enjoyable as possible.
- Dunes are the Town’s first line of defense in storms and hurricanes. Climbing on the dunes is not permitted.
- Beach tents, canopies and other beach equipment must be removed from the beach strand each night. Town staff will confiscate any unattended beach tents, canopies and other equipment left out during the overnight hours. Oceanfront property owners may qualify for a special exemption.
- Holes in the sand deeper than 12 inches must be filled in completely when you leave the beach. Large holes are a safety hazard for others using the beach, as well as for nesting sea turtles and their offspring.
- Camping overnight is not permitted on the beach strand.
- Sea turtle nests are marked with wooden posts, tape and signage, and should be avoided. The Town is a sea turtle sanctuary and works diligently to protect sea turtles.
View a complete list of beach regulations.
What is a rip current?
Rip currents are very powerful channels of water that move at very fast speeds away from the shore and can quickly pull even a strong swimmer out to sea. It is important for all swimmers to know the signs of a rip current and avoid those areas. A few indicators provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) include:
- A channel of churning, choppy water
- Notable differences in water color
- Lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward
- A break in the incoming wave pattern
What should you do if you are caught in a rip current?
If you see warning signs of rip currents or moderate or high hazard flags, stay out of the water, and alert others to do the same. If caught in a rip current, you should:
- Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Never fight against the current
- Think of the rip current like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, but that you can step to the side of.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle, away from the current and towards the shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and yelling for help.
Check the National Weather Service Surf Forecasts for the latest rip current, high and low tide and surf height information.
What are beach warning flags?
Beach warning flags are used to indicate current beach conditions. The color of the flag indicates the level of risk or danger to beachgoers entering the ocean.
What do the beach warning flags mean?
- GREEN flags indicate that conditions are safe. The Town of Emerald Isle does not fly green flags, as we believe that there are always inherent dangers when swimming in the ocean, therefore it is never completely safe and you should always use caution.
- YELLOW flags indicate moderate hazards, and that the public should use caution in the ocean. In Emerald Isle, even the calmest of days on the beach can pose an inherent risk when entering the ocean and the public is always advised to use caution.
- RED flags indicate that there is a high risk of strong currents or other hazards and the public is advised to stay out of the water
- DOUBLE RED flags indicate that there is an extremely high risk of strong currents or other hazards and the Town Manager has enacted a prohibition on swimming for our beaches under the authority granted by Town Ordinance Chapter 5 Section 5-25. You can be fined or arrested if you go in the water.
- PURPLE flags indicate an abundance of potentially hazardous marine life in the vicinity, including Portuguese man-o-war, jellyfish, and other creatures. The town will fly these flags as needed in specific locations, however, the use of PURPLE FLAGS is relatively rare.
When are beach warning flags posted on Emerald Isle beaches?
The only time flags are posted along the beach are during the months when lifeguards are patrolling the beach, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is important to note that Emerald Isle is ALWAYS at a minimum level of yellow flags.
Emerald Isle NEVER flies green flags because we believe that there are always inherent dangers when entering the ocean and you should always use caution. The only time flags are posted along the beach are when we are under red flag or double red flag conditions.
What should I do if I don’t see a flag posted on the beach?
If you don’t see a flag from where you are on the beach, you should check with the Emerald Isle Fire Department or the town website to determine current beach conditions. Remember that the Town of Emerald Isle is NEVER under green flag conditions, so the public is always advised to use caution.
Does Emerald Isle have lifeguards on the beaches?
Yes, lifeguards begin patrolling Emerald Isle beaches the week before Memorial Day each year and continue through Labor Day. Stationary lifeguards are located at both the East and West Regional Ocean Accesses and up to 4 roving lifeguards are patrolling the beach strand daily.
All lifeguards serving on the beaches are United States Lifeguard Association (USLA) certified.
What method is used for emergency water rescue operations in Emerald Isle?
The Town of Emerald Isle has found over the years that the quickest response in rescue operations is achieved by traveling over the roadways to the closest access rather than trying to get through hundreds or thousands of people along a crowded beach. Getting to the location as quickly as possible gives rescue teams the greatest chances of conducting a successful rescue.
Is it okay to go swimming in the ocean alone?
Although Emerald Isle is blessed with wide, sandy beaches and warm ocean waters, care should always be exercised. The “buddy system” should always be used when playing or swimming in the ocean waters. Swimming alone is not advised. And children should never be left unattended.
What should I do if I see someone in trouble?
For emergency water rescue on Emerald Isle beaches, call 911, and the town emergency response personnel will be on the scene as quickly as possible.
If you believe that you are an exceptionally good swimmer and are willing to provide assistance, you can grab a flotation device and go in to help if you choose to. NEVER ENTER THE WATER TO CONDUCT A RESCUE WITHOUT A FLOTATION DEVICE! There are 100 rescue buoys stationed on poles along the beach strand that have been provided by the town to assist those that choose to help in these situations. Swim close enough to the person so that you can toss them the flotation device, but not so close that they can grab you or you will become their flotation device. Talk to them and try to keep them calm until help arrives.
What should I do if severe weather warnings are issued while I’m at the beach?
Be attentive to any weather-related watches or warnings issued by the National Weather Service or local authorities, and follow carefully any precautionary directions or evacuation notices from public safety officials. When thunderstorms or lightning threaten, seek cover promptly in a large enclosed building or if not possible, an enclosed metal vehicle. The National Weather Service recommends waiting 30 minutes until after the last thunder crack before returning to the beach. You can always get the latest on tropical storm forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.
Where can I find beach safety information during my vacation in Emerald Isle?
- Emerald Isle’s Town staff hosts educational programs on beach safety, rip current dangers, and other hazards multiple times per month to help educate beachgoers.
- The Fire Department conducts public education classes for schools, locals and visitors that focuses specifically on water safety. These events are publicized on the Town’s website and other social media platforms.
- Police and lifeguards patrolling Emerald Isle beaches hand out flyers with the flag warnings, rip current information and beach rules and regulations.
- Town staff constantly evaluate local conditions and communicate and coordinate with NOAA and other agencies to provide the most current information on conditions and warnings present for our residents and guests. Conditions are updated constantly, and warnings are posted on the Town’s website and social media platforms to give residents the information they need to make good decisions.
- The Town produces thousands of flyers, signs, magnets, newsletters and other informational sources annually to provide to residents and post around town to ensure that the information is available to our residents and guests.
- The Parks and Recreation department hands out drink koozies with flag and rip current information to every person that pays to park at one of the public beach accesses.
- The Town also works closely with the major rental companies in the area, such as Emerald Isle Realty, to get safety information out to visitors and guests. Emerald Isle Realty provides safety information that is produced by the Town in guests’ rental packets when they arrive, in addition to posting the information in all vacation rental properties. Safety information can also be found on the Emerald Isle Realty website here in the FAQ section, as well as a complete list of beach regulations that have also been produced by the Town.
Lost and Found Policy
What is Emerald Isle Realty’s lost and found policy?
Although we cannot be held responsible for items left behind, Emerald Isle Realty makes every effort to locate and return any lost items to you. Contact our office our fill out our online Lost and Found form and items found would be sent UPS COD and a $15 handling fee will be included. Unclaimed items will be donated to local charities after 30 days.
Things to Do
What is there to do on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast?
The Outer Banks in North Carolina is an amazing 200-mile stretch of barrier islands off the coast. Emerald Isle is just one of the many beach communities that make up the southernmost part of the Outer Banks. Start planning your Outer Banks vacation now and enjoy miles of golden brown sand and emerald-colored water like you have never seen.
Does Emerald Isle offer boating access areas?
Whether you have your own boat or need to rent one, there are plenty of marinas and boating access areas to choose from. You can even reserve a private charter for a scenic tour of the coast, book half or full day fishing charters or schedule an eco-tour.
Do I need a fishing license to fish along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast?
North Carolina requires anyone over 16 to have a license to fish in the state’s sounds, coastal rivers, and three miles out into the ocean. Find more information on obtaining your North Carolina fishing license.