A variety of boats anchor off shore at Cape Lookout National Seashore.

NPS Photo/Shad Dusseau

The islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore are reachable only by boat. While many visitors take a ferry, most paddlers and sailors prefer to take their own boats across to the islands.

Navigating the shallow waters of the sounds is a challenge. The average depth in the channel is about 5 feet, with the surrounding water averaging under 3 feet and filled with shoals. Tidal changes can make an area impassable at low tide. Knowing how to "read the water" as well as a chart is essential to safe boating. At Cape Lookout, it is not a matter of "if" you'll go aground but more "when" and how hard.

NOAA Chart 11545 (Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks, Barden and Beaufort Inlets) and NOAA Chart 11550 (Ocracoke Inlet, Portsmouth, Core Banks) are key to knowing the waters. Learning the area can bring years of enjoyable and safe boating.

Tide Height: 2-4 feet
Current Speed (Channels): 2-3 knots


Last updated: October 20, 2023

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