The N&O has a whole article on it. It will disappear long before we go, so I’m reprinting it here.
When driving on beach, let some air out of the tires and go easy on the gas pedal
By JOE MALAT, Correspondent
For decades, serious surfcasters have used traditional four-wheel-drive “beach buggies” to chase roving schools of fish along the oceanfront.
Now, the modern version of the beach buggy is a new breed, a sleek sport utility vehicle.
Contemporary surf fishermen use their vehicles to haul groceries and children during the week, surf tackle and coolers on the weekends. Compared to the vintage beach cars, these modern chariots are mechanical wonders, but some specialized driving techniques are necessary for successfully negotiating the beach.
For many SUV drivers, the first beach-driving event is a white-knuckle, raw-nerve nightmare. But driving to your favorite fishing spot on the beach should be fun, and a few “tricks of the trade” will help any off-road rookie get off to a confident and enjoyable start.
First off, let’s dispel a myth: Driving on sand is nothing like driving in the snow.
Munching through slippery snow requires traction and tires to dig in. The opposite is necessary for negotiating soft sand. A successful, and happy, beach driver wants to ride on top of the sand and maintain “flotation.”
Make those tires float by deflating them. Most experienced beach drivers suggest 20 to 24 psi (pounds per square inch) per tire. The magic number depends on factors such as the weight of the vehicle, power of the engine and the condition of the sand.
Regular radial tires, with a non-aggressive tread, excel on the beach, and the natural bulge of a radial’s sidewall is enhanced when the tire pressure is decreased to give the tire a wider footprint.
Trust a veteran
John Newbold, a 71-year-old resident of Nags Head, has been driving Outer Banks beaches for more than 30 years. He works part-time in a Nags Head bait and tackle shop and chases fish on the beach from Corolla to Ocracoke every chance he gets.
“I like to drive the beach so I can have all of my gear, bait, coolers, rods, reels, and tackle with me wherever I go,” he said. “When I’m after stripers or drum in the fall, I’ll run from Oregon Inlet to Hatteras Inlet. When the fishing is hot, I might fish for speckled trout, drum, bluefish, flounder and sea mullet all in the same day.”
His preferences are shared by thousands of serious surf anglers.
Newbold’s Ford Expedition could pass for a mobile tackle shop, with a front-mounted cooler-and-rod rack and custom-made cabinets for buckets, sand spikes, lures, tackle and hooks in the back. Every item is neatly stowed.
For Newbold, beach driving is a means to an end, and he has learned how to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand so he could spend more time fishing. He was glad to offer some advice.
“Deflate your tires to the right pressure,” he said. “Be sure to engage four-wheel-drive, usually high range for most vehicles, and go slow!
“Avoid sudden stops, jack rabbit starts, and sharp turns.
“Easy does it.
“If you get bogged down, don’t spin your wheels. It might be necessary to get out, clear the sand from around your tires and maybe let out some more air.”
Freedom, with rules
The Outer Banks offers surfcasters a multitude of opportunities to drive the beach, but there are some restrictions.
Vehicles are allowed on the beach in Corolla, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head only during the fall, winter and early spring. Beach driving is permitted year-round at designated locations within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
Beach driving is free in all of the above areas, except for Nags Head, which requires a $25 seasonal permit. (On the southern N.C. coast, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is expected to charge a fee for driving on the beach, probably starting Jan. 1.)
The towns of Duck, Southern Shores and Kitty Hawk do not allow vehicles on the beach at any time.
Be sure to use the designated crossover ramps for beach vehicles; all ramps are clearly marked. In the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the numbers at each beach ramp correspond to the approximate number of the mile marker on N.C. Route 12, south of Nags Head.
Be ready to dig out
Remember that no matter how experienced or prepared a driver is, there’s always a risk of getting stuck. And don’t count on AAA, the traditional roadside security blanket, to help with a vehicle that’s bogged down at the ocean’s edge.
“We will gladly provide our members with a tow if their vehicle is within 75 feet of a publicly maintained road,” Sarah Bembry, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas, said.
Beyond that, you’re on your own.
Many experienced beach drivers carry a tire gauge, tow strap, shovel, a jack and a couple of 18-inch square pieces of half-inch plywood for a jack pad. Without a firm base, the jack will disappear into the sand.
If a cell phone is your only piece of safety equipment, there are several service stations along the entire Outer Banks that will rescue you, but that help doesn’t come cheap.
Jarvis Williams, a Hatteras Island native who operates Cape Point Exxon in Buxton, the average cost of sending one of his wreckers out on the beach is about $150. That rate is typical among most of the local tow-truck operators but is subject to change.
“That figure might vary, depending on the type of vehicle, how heavy it is and where it’s stuck,” Williams said. “We pull out everything from small two-wheel-drive cars to trucks with campers on the back.
“And I have to charge more if the vehicle is in the water. I’ve had to get ‘em when most of the vehicle was under water, and most of the time they got stuck because they didn’t deflate their tires.”
If an Outer Banks surf fishing and beach driving trip is in your future, be sure “TIRE GAUGE” is at the top of your equipment list, and, as John Newbold says, “Easy does it.”