Carteret County Leads Nation in Surf Zone Deaths This Year

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Mile for mile, North Carolina leads the nation in surf zone deaths this year. All of those deaths have occurred in Carteret County.

The Crystal Coast has seen an unusually high number of surf zone deaths this year – 324% more than each of the past six years on average. As of May 31, seven people have lost their lives along county beaches – far more than in previous years. Most are reported to be related to rip current activity.

Florida generally leads the nation in total numbers of deaths along beaches, and it has the highest number of surf zone deaths so far this year – nine deaths to North Carolina’s seven. But if you look at the data compared to miles of coastline, North Carolina blows Florida out of the water with one death for every 43 miles of coastline. Florida has one death for every 150 miles.

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Read More About Surf Zone Deaths This Year

Surf Zone Deaths in Carteret County: 2019

Notes: Dates represent the date of the incident, not necessarily the date the victim was declared deceased. Data in parentheses indicates information that is waiting on confirmation by authorities. Local indicates whether or not the person lived within the county in which the incident occurred. The acronym EMC indicates that an existing medical condition contributed to the death. Incidents have been checked against information from local authorities and the National Weather Service.

DateLocationAgeGenderHazardFlagsLocal?
May 26Pine Knoll Shores38MRip CurrentRedN
May 19Emerald Isle48MRip CurrentYellowN
May 14Atlantic Beach5MRip CurrentRedY
May 14Atlantic Beach24MRip CurrentRedY
May 4Emerald Isle28MHigh SurfYellowN
April 19Emerald Isle17FRip CurrentRedN
April 19Emerald Isle18MRip CurrentRedN

National Weather Service data for surf zone drownings in 2019

Carteret County vs. National Surf Zone Deaths: 2019

Notes: This table provides surf death data in the continental US plus HI and AK.

LocationDeaths% All DeathsMiles of CoastDeaths/Mile
Alabama13.860.0167
California415.4840.0047
Florida934.61350.0067
N.C.726.9301.0233
Texas519.2600.0083
Total:26

Background & Context

  • From 2013-2018, Carteret County deaths in the surf zone averaged 2.16 per year. 2017 had the highest number, with five total deaths.
  • Carteret County has 25.4 miles of ocean-facing beaches on Bogue Banks.
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore has 56 miles of ocean-facing beaches measured from Shackleford to Portsmouth.
  • In the past six years all but two surf zone deaths occurred on the Atlantic side of Bogue Banks. One occurred on Shackleford, and the other was a diving accident in Bogue Sound.

Surf Zone Deaths in Carteret County: 2013-2018

According to National Weather Service data, over the past six years Carteret County experienced 13 surf zone deaths:

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  • 3 surf zone deaths in 2018
  • 5 surf zone deaths in 2017
  • 1 surf zone death in 2016
  • 1 surf zone death in 2015
  • 0 surf zone deaths in 2014
  • An unknown number, at least 3*, surf zone deaths in 2013

Other North Carolina Data

Note: The following data is provided to clear up any confusion about different counts of surf zone deaths. These are not included in the official NWS total as ocean conditions were not the cause of the fatality.

Other Surf Zone Deaths Not Attributable to Ocean Conditions In Coastal North Carolina Counties**: 2019

DateLocationAgeGenderHazardFlagsLocal?
May 25Dare68MEMCYellowN
April 25***New Hanover69MUnknownUnknownN

Open Water but Non-Surf Zone Deaths in Coastal North Carolina Counties Including Carteret: 2019

DateLocationAgeGenderHazardFlagsLocal
May 23OnslowMUnknownN/AY

* Number verified by local media reports. Overall, 7 or 8 people died in the surf zone in all of North Carolina in 2013 based on accumulated data. Breakout by county was not available.
** “Coastal North Carolina Counties,” for this purpose, includes those that border the Atlantic Ocean: Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Carteret, Onslow, Pender, New Hanover, and Brunswick.
*** The April 25 incident was not witnessed by anyone; the man’s body washed up on the shore. The death may have been unrelated to water hazards.