Sailing OBX

Hello forum!

This is less of a building question and more of a information one.

The kids, wife, and myself will be vacationing this summer in OBX. I was wondering if anyone had any tips, tricks, or things to know.

My sailing experience has been limited  to the west coast from Oregon to Alaska and many lakes. I am concerned just a tad about the "graveyard of the atlantic" but feel the skerry shouldn't have to much of an issue.

I will likely be sailing out of kitty hawk on the sound side.

Thanks in advance for the wisdom.

17 replies:

« Previous Post       List of Posts       Next Post »

RE: Sailing OBX

   I learned to sail as a kid on an old Sailfish on Currituck Sound. All the sounds are great for small craft sailing. Respect weather of course but it's great. The sounds are shallow so if you capsize try to keep it from going turtle cause sticking the masthead in the mud is a pain.  You can stand up in many places a mile from shore.  Currituck and some of Albemarle are quite low salt content. Milfoil weed can be an issue in summer. Be ready to yank up the daggerboard to clear it. Bring a sun hat, sun block and bug repellent.  Pamlico is broader and can get big chop in a strong wind. Southwest is the prevailing summer wind which lets Pamlico build more seas. A skerry should be perfect for all of them. I want to take mine down there. 

RE: Sailing OBX

   Just research for locations of launch ramps, or kayak put-ins if that is a possibility.


RE: Sailing OBX

My personal experience with coastal North Carolina lies further south (Morehead City area, Cape Lookout, Core Sound, etc.), but I've studied the whole business quite a bit over the years in hopes of covering more of it personally sometime.  You know how it is: you get a long list of places you've visited with a boat and to which you'd like to return (I never get tired of Cape Lookout).  Then you have another list of places about which you've heard or read and to which you'd love take your the future...maybe...Lord willing....  Ah, too many places, probably too little time.  But, I digress....

The first thing you ought to do is to have a look at some of the fine information available from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at:

Boating Guides and Publications (

If you look down to where it says "North Carolina Coastal Boating Guide" and click on the hypertext "Download the large version of the Coastal Boating Guide", you'll get to this link: the large PDF of the Coastal Boating Guide Map.  They used to mail these wonderful maps out freely, and I got my first one when I started visiting coastal NC about thirty years ago (had to call 'em up back in those days).  There is another version cut up into pages here:

...which could be handy if you actually wanted to print some of it out yourself.

I can't tell you how many of these I've worn out over the years.  Lot's of great info, and perhaps uniquely useful in how it shows the interaction of land, roads, towns, launch ramps, and waterways.  It's a great way to plan where your trip and, while not itself suitable for real navigation, is a good place to start for figuring out what charts you might need.

As someone noted earlier, your can typically expect SW winds on most days that time of year.  You do want to pay attention to the weather and be alert for thundersqualls.  The open stretches of the sounds there, which are either shallow or really shallow, will get up ugly, short, breaking waves in a hurry when the wind gets up.  I'm told that the area of Albermarle Sound where the ICW crosses can get particularly dicey in the right (wrong) wind, so mind how you go there.  You'll want to have decent ground tackle and some practiced drill setting and weighing anchor, of course.

As you can see from the map, there are lots of different areas you could explore from launch ramps a short trailer ride from Kitty Hawk without having to sail great distances.  And, of course, you might want to make short road trips to visit Currituck and Bodie Island lighthouses.  Heck, it's a lovely drive from there down to Cape Hatteras, which would make a splendid day trip...maybe on a weekday that time of year.

Well, gosh, now I've got myself wanting to go!  Sing out if you have any questions or trouble with those links.....




RE: Sailing OBX

   thank you guys, Gramps the nc stuff is especially helpful.

I had known that the east coast had more shallow areas but now that I've gone through some charts I am truly happy about my choice of skerry!

I am worried a bit about the weather, having only sailed where things come from the west, is there a big difference in what to look out for? In the sound I would have about 20min minimum to react and more often enough time to sail back or not head out.

I will need to get some anchor practice in, it makes sense given the depth of the water but it was not the solution we took in the boats I was in during storms(those being orders of magnitude larger than the skerry and in open deeper water) which also came with experienced captains. I on the other hand will be by myself with maybe one or two little hands.

Is looking at the weather report before heading out a good indicator of the day? Always be on guard for sure, but can I estimate risk well with the reports?


RE: Sailing OBX

dmidadd wrote "Is looking at the weather report before heading out a good indicator of the day? Always be on guard for sure, but can I estimate risk well with the reports?"

It's the absolute minimum you should do. Looking at the weather forecast and reports every day lets you learn the patterns and get a feel for the accuracy. Even so, having a weather radio aboard and periodically checking it can prevent unpleasant surprises, or at least convert them to unpleasant expectations.

But even with the best forecasts and reports, nothing beats keeping your eyes open and paying attention. After all, you are right there and have a better knowledge and feel for what's going on around you than someone in an air-conditioned office hundreds of miles away.

My hairiest weather day on the Chesapeake started out with a prediction of 2 to 7 knot winds. It was the same prediction as the last few days and I let myself get lulled into a false sense of security and didn't check the more detailed reports. Later that afternoon a passing front changed its path and passed over where I was sailing. It was all still perfectly clear with no visible indications. NOAA weather radio broadcast a warning, which I didn't get because of leaving the radio at home (nice day, planning to stay within a mile of shore, etc.) Then the front dropped a dry microburst which was funneled up the South River and the wind went from 3 to 30 knots in 10 minutes. I could have avoided the ensuing hassle if I'd done a fuller check of the weather and seen that close-by front, if I'd had my radio to get the warning bulletin and if I'd realized what was happening and turned around, reefed, etc. when I saw the wind coming up.

So definitely get a weather report, and more.


RE: Sailing OBX

   Laszlo has good points. Bring a handheld VHF and listen to the WX channel a couple of times during the day. If you are in the middle of Pamlico it can be a long sail to shelter. The others are narrower and most time you could get the skerry to some shelter or shore quicker. T storms there have a pattern. Usually. And you can see them building. So I wouldn't worry so long as basic precautions are done. All shores are generally shallow and reasonably accessible if you just need to sprint for the nearest dry land and a skerry is the ticket for beaching. I sail my skerry with a vhf on my belt and my old handheld Garmin with a chart book in a plastic sleeve. 

RE: Sailing OBX

This sort of stuff is exactly what I had hoped for!

The hand held VHF is something I will go out and get, while I have likely gotten away with it on the west coast because of the years of being there and the relative predictability and speed of change I don't want to mess with it on the east coast. (plus should have had one anyway)

I might also purchase some lights for the mast I see there are some battery powered led ones now that look like the trick for occasional use.

I feel a bit more prepared on what to expect. Now if only Ya'll will come sail with me! 

RE: Sailing OBX

   Follow up question, what hand held VHF radio would you recommend? I would like to spend less than $150 but could be convinced otherwise. (wife on the other hand...)

I see a few reviews but don't necessarily trust (or recognize) any of the brands. I know that the concept of water resistance can also be subjective to some Chinese manufacturers. 

RE: Sailing OBX

I have a Standard Horizon (Yaesu) HX300 of which I am pretty fond.  Pretty easy to use, waterproof, floats (not a theory), lithium ion battery recharges on a standard (old) micro USB, and you can get a little adapter for it to run off 3 AAA batteries in a pinch, which can be really useful.  It's pretty easy to set up a "tri-watch" on 9, 16, and 13 to monitor the hailing, emergency, and low watt bridge to bridge (and drawbridge tender) frequencies all at once.  It also has a button to toggle straight between 9 and 16, and 20 weather channels.

Yaesu is a Japanese company who make a lot of high end ham radio gear (one of my sons is into that), though my HX300 says it was made in China.  With the folks at Yaesu calling the shots, though, I wouldn't let that worry me.

I have an older I-COM M88 as well, twenty years old and still going strong.  Also waterproof, but doesn't float.  We used this aboard our Menger 19 catboat, connected to a masthead antenna for increased range.  I don't think they make that one anymore, but I can recommend the brand.

It's kinda handy to have two so you can do your own comm check, or maybe lend on out to a fellow boater with whom you are doing some sort fleet action.



RE: Sailing OBX

 well thats easy enough, I just bought the HX300.

While I got just one we also have some hiking walkie talkies that cover the VHF channels, there range isn't great and they dont have the features that I want in a safety radio, but they are 10 bucks and can do a comm check or close in communication. 

Thanks a ton!

RE: Sailing OBX

   When are you going?  I've been thinking about that same trip in my Skerry!

Hooper Williams - Brevard, NC                                       

RE: Sailing OBX

   I found an Icom hand-held bobbing at waters edge a few years ago and it still works. I already had a Standard Horizon hand-held and they both have the WX warning system whose alarm will wake the dead.

Weather forecasts tell you will they think will happen but we have all seen cases where what really happens can be life threatening if you're caught out in a small boat.
Weather radar apps on smart phones can add a level of awareness of what's heading your way but, of course, Murphy's Law applies especially to anything tech. It never works when you need it.

I add my vote to keeping your eyes open and your head on a swivel.

RE: Sailing OBX


We are staying in point harbor. I think it is not technically obx but there is a nice house with enough rooms for the family at a good price. Also, there is a kayak "ramp" at a park just a short distance away.

I think most of the sailing will be done north of the bridge as I haven't had a good read of the height of the bridge. (but lowering the mast and raising it is not out of the question!) convince and all. I am hoping on the day to duck or kitty hawk I can sail with a few of the kids while my wife or son drives.

I plan to stay away from open water and the intercoastal waterway, but may head down to the Croatian sound.

We are going to have a jam packed week, with outings planned for 4 of the 7 days, so it is as much me getting to put her in salt water for the first time (ironically in the Atlantic!) and getting to go on a true sail.


I agree with the swivel, I have just never been in waters as talked about for both weather change and shipwrecks as OBX. on the west coast I was either in a boat with very experienced sailors, one with a large attached radio where weather was predictable, or in waters so sheltered (inside passage and puget sound) that one can go out in a kayak or dingy and never get out of swim distance.

I think for this first time on my own and at OBX I will be nothing but on edge until I hit some sort of weather and get calibrated.

Eyes open and head on a swivel for sure!

RE: Sailing OBX


When you say "most of the sailing will be done north of the bridge", do I correctly assume you mean the Wright Memorial Bridge which carries US 158 from Point Harbor over Currituck Sound?  Chart 12204 (if you can still get that--NOAA is phasing out the older style paper charts) shows a horizontal clearance of 40' (one assumes between the pier "sheer fences" at the preferred channel) and a vertical clearance of 35'.  The bridge has a raised section about 3/4 of the way over to the island, the rest of it being lower.

Mind you, I don't know this from personal experience, rather what I've been able to gather from online navigational stuff online and web searches for images.  That chart 12204 would be a handy thing to have for planning purposes, or have a look at their newer ENC based viewer at:

...but I'm not sure how to get printed ENC charts these days, as I've, sadly, not had any need for charts these last several years.  (I was always a compass and parallel rules on paper chart sort of navigator.)  "This bears further investigation...."

Navionics has another useful online chart viewer at:

...which has some interactive features that will let you click on a feature, like a navigational aid, to call up its details or draw lines to calculate distances.  Like the ENC's, the depths are in meters and tenths, but you can change that to feet or fathoms (yes, I'm old fashioned--I like fathoms).  Anyway, you might find that useful for planning purposes.  If you take a tablet or laptop with you to your lodgings and have internet access, you could use this stuff to get some details about where you'd want to go on any given day and make notes on index cards to take with you in ziplock bags.

Well, that ought to give you some aids to off season brain sailing for a bit.  Thanks for giving me an excuse to do some wishful brain sailing my own wishful self.  <;-)


RE: Sailing OBX

   That sounds very exciting! ...probably too tightly planned to shoot for a meet-up, though.  My Skerry first got wet in the salt water of Winyah Bay off Georgetown, SC.  In the four days that I sailed there I experienced heavy (big boat) traffic, grounding in ooze too mushy to push out of, tidal currents and near gale force winds.  I was too naive to be nervous and took all of that in stride.  I'm probably lucky nothing bad happened, but my point is she is a very forgiving boat.  Her first (and only accidental) capsize was later on a sheltered inland reservoir running overpowered in the presence of too many wake boats.  I learned then that a capsize is not that big of a deal, but one should be prepared.  A few controlled capsize drills later removed all anxiety.  A word about that.  You should try to mitigate your anxiety before going out with your children.  Even if nothing bad happens, they will sense it and it could turn them off from sailing forever.


RE: Sailing OBX

   @Gramps Yes I do mean the Wright Memorial Bridge. I am still gathering charts, the resource you provided is great! I was judging the hight off of google street view... which is not the best but lets me know if it is clearly larger or not, I must have missed the higher section, this is good news though!

I am a little old fashioned as well, I knew the south sound like the back of my hand including the currents. This likely adds to some of my uneasiness and I want to know the area where I am sailing and be able to have a sense of place, direction, and known dangers without having to keep my head down at a map. (I would prefer to keep it up!)

I like meters though... so not so old fashioned.

Also, it's kind of cool that I open up the NOAA ledged and the first map is Cook Inlet where I grew up. NEAT!

The put in point that I am planning on is 30 cm... so good thing I have a skerry! Good news is that I am now not worried about capsizing there!


It will be tight in one sense But I think we are doing Williamsburg one day, kitty hawk/duck another, and Hatteras light house. I think the duck day could be a sailing day. That leaves three and a half days to fit some level of sailing in. My wife and I are A types and will have the days we are doing each thing set by the end of march, let me know what day might work and we can just set that day for anyone to come sail knowing at least one person will be out there weather permitting.

I capsized the boat first thing, I am likely a terrible person as I did this on purpose about 15 ft from the dock without telling my wife or kids that I was going to do it. The hardest part of righting her was trying to stop laughing. Later I capsized her in a similar situation to yours, I was pushing her way to hard and either a gust, wake from boat passing to close or both tipped me over. Before the water skiers could come back around I had her righted.

RE: Sailing OBX



   Wow, you have an ambitious schedule there!  I assume you are stopping at Williamsburg on the way to or from, since it is not a convenient day trip from Pt Harbor.  In fact, if you time it wrong, I-64 to either the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel or the I-664 bridge-tunnel at the wrong time (rush hour), it can be a real PITA.  We were taking to using the I664 (western loop) bridge and go down US 17 beside the Dismal Swamp Canal because the standard beach route, Rt. 168, gets clogged on summer weekends..  Rt 17 is a bit longer but lower stress and if it's Friday PM, likely faster.  Stop at the Dismal Swamp State Park and wayside just across the NC line.  It's a nice break, educational, and boats transiting the canal tie up at the dock, especially spring and fall.  

North of the bridge is Currituck Sound. See my comments above about it.  I like it, but the interesting parts are several miles north of the bridge.  Wide open, with no hazards aside from shallows and weeds that can collect on the daggerboard.  Little tidal action, mostly governed by wind direction.  If you get all the way to the islands up past Duck, you get into some nice wildlife and bird life.  

If you are taking a day down to Hatteras, I don't know that I'd complicate it w/ trailering the boat.  Leave early and enjoy the beaches and lighthouse.  Pick up the National Seashore pamphlets (online) and stop at Coquina Beach or the various wreck beaches along the way.  Check for conditions on the Cape.  If the waves are rolling and you are the type, it's good surfing/boarding.   All the really scary stories about Graveyard of the Atlantic are about the ocean side, and it can be that kind of ocean, or a mill pond, depending on the weather.  It's because of the shoals that jut out from the Cape to the edge of the Gulf Stream that so many came to grief.  Strong currents set ships off course and bad weather piles up the waves on the shoals waiting for them.

There's a ramp at Oregon Inlet that all the fishermen use if you want to try boating from there, up into the islands and marshes behind Bodie Island Light if you like gunkholing.   Oregon Inlet in nice weather is interesting, but strong tidal currents complicate the navigation in a small boat, and leave the ocean side bar to the locals.  I don't know about now, but we used to slay the flounder and (in season) sea trout on the sound side of Oregon Inlet.  Remember your fishing license, 'cause they check.

« Previous Post     List of Posts     Next Post »

Please login or register to post a reply.