Outer Banks Kayak Safety Tips

Learn These Tips Before You Launch!

Ocean Atlantic Rentals has compiled a list of 10 basic kayak safety tips for anyone looking to kayak the beautiful waters that the Outer Banks has to offer. Our tips are meant to help keep you safe on your day out on the water! Always use common sense and follow the safety rules at all times. Be sure to check out our different kayak rental options so you may choose the style and size best suited for your journey. Let’s get paddling…

#1 Dress for the Day

Always consider outdoor temperatures before starting your day. This includes checking the water temperature, too! Be prepared for the possibility of your vessel capsizing. If you’re paddling on a colder day, we recommend paddling in a wetsuit to keep you warm in potentially chilly waters; be sure to ask our staff about our wetsuit rentals. On sunnier days, you will want to protect yourself by wearing items such as a long sleeve shirt, visor or hat, and sunglasses; and remember to always keep your sunscreen near!

#2 Know When to Go

Sometimes the waves are too rough for kayaking. You don’t want a rogue wave to fill your vessel with water. The Outer Banks is notoriously known for its powerful offshore winds. Strong gusts can make it hard for you to return to shore. It’s also a good idea to wear a helmet in case you get caught in rough surf zones. Bodies of water close to inlets or where currents meet can create hazardous surf quite often, but currents can form in shallow waters, too. The main beaches on the OBX like Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk normally fly red flags to indicate unsafe rip current conditions, while more remote beaches like Carova and Hatteras Island may not have warning signs in place. To prevent getting caught in a rip current, avoid kayaking on very windy days. Remember rip currents can occur quickly, so we recommend beginners explore areas with a lifeguard on duty. Here are the beach locations with lifeguard stations in season. When ocean and wind conditions are considered unsafe, go on another day or try paddling on the sound side! It’s always a great idea to check out your local surf report before heading out.

#3 Follow the Rules

Different Outer Banks regions may have specific rules for boating. Make sure to educate yourself on the town’s rules and regulations before you plan to paddle out. The OBX has different ordinances that vary from town to town. Also, you need to know where to launch. Some common things to consider include:

  • Hours of Operation: If you’re kayaking in a state park, remember some close at sunset.
  • Piers: Although you can launch your kayak at popular piers such as Jennette’s Pier, rules mandate that you must stay 500 feet away from the pier itself. Keeping distance from this pier prevents you from running into dangerous concrete pilings and getting tangled up in fishing wire.
    Always learn the rules for where you’re launching your kayak before you go to ensure you’re aligned with public codes and laws!

#4 Keep Yourself and Others Safe

Always be aware of your surroundings. Remember larger vessels that commonly travel OBX inlets have the right of way. Also, try and watch out for swimmers! If this is your first time kayaking on the OBX, brush up on correct paddling techniques, water safety, and basic first-aid. Practice self-rescuing yourself in calm, shallow waters and again in more challenging conditions to ensure you can safely recover if you find yourself in the water. There are plenty of resources to prepare you for kayaking in deeper water, but if you find yourself unprepared, seek qualified instruction before your journey. Even if you’re inexperienced, sound side kayaking is a great opportunity for exploration. Not only do you have the chance to see native wildlife, but in most areas, the water is shallow enough for you to stand.

#5 Never Exceed the Weight Capacity of Your Kayak

All kayaks are different, so get familiar with them before use! Never overfill your kayak with passengers. Single-occupancy kayaks should only hold one user as more kayakers will exceed the specified weight limit and can create unsafe user conditions in terms of buoyancy. Also, remember to remain seated and in the proper kayaking position during your entire trip.

#6 Check Your Equipment

We always check our kayaking equipment for wear and tear between rentals, so it will be safe for your use. Our typical safety evaluation includes checking the vessel for any holes and/or deep scratches from previous users. We also check to see if the kayak’s scupper plug is in tact to prevent excessive water intake from waves. Make sure you are using the appropriate model of kayak for the body of water you are exploring. Not all kayaks are equipped for ocean voyages. If you’re renting a kayak with us, only our ocean kayaks are designed to withstand the ocean waves. If you are exploring the sound, check out our single or double Old Town kayaks.

#7 Stay Hydrated

If you are planning to stay out on the water for a while, we recommend packing a snack for energy and fresh water to keep you hydrated. Never consume alcohol while using your kayak.

#8 Prepare a Paddle Plan

Kayakers and boaters should never venture out alone. When you do paddle out, even with other people in your party, explain all the details of your trip to a friend or family member that is staying on land and check in with them upon your return. Map out where you will be paddling and designate how long you will be on the water. Always stick to your plan so someone will know when to expect your return and know where to look for you in a worst-case scenario.

#9 Safely Return to Shore

While planning your day on the beautiful waters of the Outer Banks, take the time to explore the area beforehand. In the ever-changing tides of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s important to mark a landmark that can help guide you back home! Know your surroundings and use precaution when paddling in uncharted territory. Have an escape route ready in case one of our famous ‘pop-up’ thunderstorms comes your way. Talk to our friendly, helpful and experienced staff about OBX current patterns and weather occurrences. Chances are you will learn some cool, hidden gems if you just ask!

#10 Wear a Life Jacket

Most importantly, WEAR YOUR PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE. Personal flotation devices keep your head above water and your torso warm in cold water. Life vests are always included with our kayak rentals; we never charge extra like other rental companies on the beach. Using a PFD is very important in preparing for an unexpected emergency.  As we mentioned, all Ocean Atlantic Rentals come with a life vest that will keep you safe. Use it!

Kayak Equipment Recommendations

While you can’t do without essential equipment like a paddle and PFD (lifevest), there are others that we recommend to make your trip more enjoyable and safe. For example, accessories like a backrest make paddling much more comfortable for longer periods of time. Our lists below can help you plan what you bring based on the type of trip or weather conditions.

Recreation & Touring

  • PFD/Life Jacket (All Kayaks and Paddleboard Rentals Include Life Jackets. If You Need Additional PFDs, We Offer Adult, Child, and Toddler Sizes)
  • A snack for energy and water
  • Maps and Tidal Charts
  • First Aid Kit
  • Safety Whistle
  • Marine Radio
  • Towline
  • Bilge Pump
  • Spray Skirt (if applicable)
  • Spare Paddle or Paddle Leash
  • Dry Bags
  • Sunscreen
  • Boat Sponge
  • Paddle Float
  • Flares/Signaling device
  • Compass


  • Rod/Paddle Clips
  • Bowline
  • Anchor Trolley System
  • Rod holders
  • Transducer and Fish Finder


  • Cap/Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Paddle Jacket
  • Base Layer Top

Cold Weather

  • Dry Top and Pants
  • Wet or Drysuit (ask about our rental wetsuits)
  • Gloves or Pogies

Now that you know the rules and what to bring, you’re ready for the water! Ocean Atlantic Rentals is here to help. We have different kayak rental options so you may choose the style and size best suited for your journey. If you are searching for a public sound and beach, our “Top Spots to Launch a Kayak on the Outer Banks” guide can point you in the right direction!

Kayak Rentals

  • Ocean Kayak Single

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  • Double Ocean Kayak

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  • Old Town Single Kayak

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    Old Town Double Kayak

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  • Kayak Backrest

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