What is the Sound Side of the Outer Banks?
If you're thinking about relocating to the area or purchasing an investment property, you may be wondering about some of the features that make the Outer Banks so unique. One feature that makes us different than other beaches on the East Coast is that we're surrounded by water instead of just having an ocean coastline. Because the Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands, we have two ways for residents and visitors to experience North Carolina’s coastal waters – the Ocean Side to the East and the Sound Side to the West. But what exactly IS the sound side?
What is the Sound?
The “sound” is the name for the water system between mainland North Carolina and the Outer Banks barrier islands. The term “sound side” specifically refers to the west side of the Outer Banks whose shoreline borders the sound from the northernmost parts of Corolla all the way south to Ocracoke Island. Although there is just one large continuous stretch of water, the waterway is broken up geographically into 5 distinct sounds - the Currituck Sound, the Albemarle Sound, the Croatan Sound, the Roanoke Sound and the Pamlico Sound .
This system of sounds is actually a natural estuary – the place where fresh water streams and rivers meet the open ocean. According to National Geographic, there are 4 types of natural estuaries: coastal plain estuaries (like the Chesapeake Bay), tectonic estuaries (like San Francisco Bay), fjord estuaries (like the Puget Sound), and bar-built estuaries (like the Outer Banks sounds). The sound itself is protected from ocean waves, coastal winds and bad weather systems by a series of barrier islands and sandbars (hence the name “bar-built). The Outer Banks sounds are part of the Albemarle - Pamlico National Estuary system, the second largest estuary in the contiguous states.
Here are the answers to a few common questions that our agents get asked about the sound:
Is the Sound salt water? Yes! The sound is an estuary, or in other words, a body of brackish water where fresh water from rivers combine with salt water from the ocean. Although more diluted by the fresh water than the ocean in some parts, sound water is still salt water.
Is it windy on the Sound? Yes! It may not be the same strength as an ocean breeze but there is still a breeze on the west side of the islands which averages between 9-10 mph. However, the winds on the Outer Banks change quickly and could be slower or much faster, even on the sound side.
How deep is the Sound? In general, the sound is quite shallow. There are some channels that reach a depth of up to 26 feet, but the average depth ranges from around 5 to 15 feet depending on the area. Most of the sound along the shore is only waist deep. For additional details on size and depth of the sound in different areas, please visit the NOAA Nautical Chart Catalog.
What fish and shellfish live in the Sound? Although you never know what you might catch in the sound, some species in particular call the shallow, marshy waters home. Flounder, Redfish, Rockfish/Striped Bass/Stripers, Speckled Trout, King and Spanish Mackerel, Tarpon, Mullet, Pompano, Blue Crab, Oysters, Clams, and Shrimp are just some of the common species you might find
Are there sharks in the Sound? This is one of the most frequently asked questions on Google! It's easy to feel awed respect, general fear and total fascination when it comes to sharks so we understand! The sound connects to the ocean though a series of inlets so yes, any marine animal found in the ocean could be found in the sound including sharks, crabs, jelly fish, skates, fish, sting rays, and dolphins, with many marine animals residing in the shallow brackish water. While you should always be aware of your surroundings, ocean rip currents are much more dangerous than ocean marine life and despite what you might see in movies, shark attacks are very rare.
Can you swim in the Sound? Yes and no. While it is safe to get in the sound water, adults may find it difficult to swim since the water is shallow (knee to waist deep) in most locations. There are parts of the sound that have deeper channels but these may be frequented by boats. It isn’t uncommon to be able to walk pretty far out into the water before it starts getting deeper. However, if you just want to splash around, wade into the water to cool off, float, or let the kids play, the shallow sound water is perfect!
Does the Sound have bacteria? Generally, the sound is safe for humans. However, at times, floodwaters and stormwater runoff may cause pollutants and other bacteria to enter the water. If this happens, Currituck County and Dare County will issue advisories if, at any point, the average bacteria level in the water exceeds state and/or federal standards making it unsafe to swim. Pollution runoff is not exclusive to sound waters... these advisories can be issued for the ocean too.
Benefits of the Sound Side
When people visit the beach, they typically want to know how close their rental is to the ocean and so many investors consider oceanfront/oceanview homes exclusively. We get it – being right by the open sea is exhilarating – but there are a lot of visitors who love the area but don't want to spend every day all day laying in the sand. Luckily, we have two options and there are actually many benefits for residents and visitors who choose to stay on the sound.
The sound is ideal for kids: The water of the sound is generally much calmer and more predictable than the ocean. The sound appears more like a giant lake with its vast space, shallow waters, and small, gentle waves. This makes the sound an ideal place if you have kids who love being out in the water! Although bad weather or strong currents can create some choppy water conditions in the sound, ocean swimmers must always be wary of potential threats like strong undertow, rough waves, and rip currents. Even breaking waves on the beach can be dangerous for young children who are too close to the water's edge but most sound beaches allow for a smooth, gradual entry into the water so kids (and adults) can easily just walk out.
You'll never be far from the beach: Owning a home on the sound side doesn’t mean you can’t visit the ocean any time you want. The Outer Banks is a series of islands after all, and these islands aren't particularly wide. In the northern beaches of Duck and Corolla or in the southern beaches of Hatteras Island, it’s quite easy to walk from the sound side to an ocean side beach access. On wider parts of the beach, it may not be feasible to walk but at just a couple miles wide, it takes no time at all to drive from your home to a public beach access. There are even some homes that enjoy sound views and ocean views - imagine offering that feature to your guests!
The sunsets will leave you speechless: While you can’t deny the beauty of a sunrise over the ocean, for those of you who aren’t early birds, the sunset may be more your style. And if you’ve never seen a sunset over the sound, you’re missing out. Thanks to the fact that we are surrounded by water, we get the unique benefit of waterfront sunrises and waterfront sunsets which is something most beach destinations can’t claim. Watching the sunset over the sound is witnessing something truly magical. Pictures can’t do it justice and words can’t even describe the beauty.
It's a great opportunity for fishing and crabbing: Who said fishing was just for the ocean? From gamefish and bottom dwellers to mollusks and crustaceans, the sound is plentiful with saltwater species that are fun to catch and great to eat! Many of our soundfront homes even have their own docks and wading beaches making it easier than ever to cast your line. Thanks to the sounds’ shallow waters and lack of breaking waves, it’s also easy to wade out to deeper spots to try your luck. If you prefer going out in a boat, a house on the sound with a boat launch is made for you!
The sound is a water sports haven: Every year, the ideal conditions of the sound waters draw in thousands of water sports enthusiasts from all over the world! From kayaking, jet skiing, and stand up paddleboarding to kiteboarding, wakeboarding, and windsurfing, the sound is a hot spot for all sorts of popular watersports. There are also plenty of businesses offering rental equipment and lessons for beginners.
Interested in learning more about owning a home by the sound? Give me a call at 252.412.5991