Wave Safe - East Coast

Learn how to be wave safe on the East Coast.


From Miami beach to Maine, East coast beaches are some of the most visited in the world, but just because they are popular doesn’t mean they aren’t hazardous.

If you want to keep your ocean and beach time fun and safe you need to be aware of dangerous waves and that starts by respecting the power of the ocean.

Even a small wave crashing against you has tremendous power. To smaller children waves that may be only knee high on an adult can be dangerous and traumatic. If you have young children keep them close when you are in the water.

Any breaking wave can be dangerous but a wave breaking directly on a steep shore, like this one, is even more likely to cause serious injuries. These conditions are called shorebreak.

Why is this type of wave so dangerous?

Imagine the weight of a car pushing down on your head, neck or back and pinning you against the sand. That is the impact a shorebreak wave can have and change your life forever.

To understand dangerous waves, it’s important to first understand what weather can do to waves. High winds from even distant storms can create larger, more threatening waves even while the weather at your beach is sunny and calm.

Another common danger you can find at any beach are waves driving you into hidden objects like shallow sandbars, jagged rocks and debris.

Before going into the water, ask a lifeguard or look for warning signs that may indicate submerged dangers.

The best way to always stay wave safe is to choose guarded beaches. Lifeguards are trained to help if you get in trouble and they’re the best source of information about beach conditions and hazards.

Many lifeguard stands display colored warning flags to indicate the level of danger on that section of beach.

If the beaches in your area are not guarded watch for warning signs near the shore and ask your local host or guides about hazards in the area that could make the waves and water more dangerous.

But to be even safer, you should arrive knowing the local weather, surf and tide forecasts for the beach you are visiting.

Go to NOAA’s Beach Forecast page for more information.

Don’t assume you know the beach conditions just because you regularly visit a certain beach.

Weather and water conditions can change in a matter of minutes and the tides are constantly changing..

Low tides create shallow water conditions where large waves crash over sandbars and submerged rocks, which can be dangerous if you don’t see them.

Watching the waves from higher up on the beach, for up to fifteen minutes, will give you the best read on current conditions.

Any size wave can look far less dangerous from the beach than they will feel once you are in the ocean.

If things look even a little scary from shore then swimming back to the beach can be worse. Even the most experienced ocean athlete knows: If in doubt, don’t go out.

Now that you know how to be aware of conditions at the beach, let’s talk about how to move in and out of the water so you are not hurt by the power of the waves.

In knee to thigh deep water turn your hips and shoulders sideways to keep your balance as you slice through the force of the waves with one foot planted behind you to brace against the wave.

In water above your waist the safest place is under and not over the whitewater of breaking waves. Face the oncoming wave and duck, don’t dive, putting your head down and fingers in the sand below.

If you are paddling, swimming or walking back to the beach, never completely turn your back on the waves. Use the same methods you used to get into the water as you return to the beach. You aren’t safe until your feet are on dry sand.

We love all our coastlines and want you to have a lifetime of great beach experiences. To have fun and to stay safe always respect the power of the ocean and be wave safe.