While area beaches are a favorite destination for visitors and residents alike, it’s not easy for everyone to access the sandy shoreline to take in the sunshine and sea breeze.

A diagnosis of congestive heart failure and medical issues took from Robin Santiago of Swansboro one of her favorite things: being on the beach and enjoying the water.

“I want my feet in the water, to hear the waves crashing, and feel the salt on my skin, but it’s a project,” Santiago said.

A trip to the beach would be a complicated task for many reasons these days, she admits, but even if she makes it there, the sand she loves to dip her toes in is another obstacle. Walking through soft sand to the water with congestive heart failure is too much of a struggle.

“I live less than 10 miles from the beach and I can’t go because I can’t walk that far (in the sand),” she said.

At least not without help.

Santiago said she was thrilled last year when she and her best friend and her best friend’s mother decided to take a family vacation to Tybee Isle. While checking out the beach there they tried out a floating beach wheelchair with mat that made the transition from boardwalk to beach to water.

She was able to use it to get across the sand and then her friend’s 83-year-old mother was able to take to the water with it.

“It was awesome,” Santiago.

She had no idea there were floating beach wheelchairs and was equally surprised to learn the local beaches in Onslow and Carteret counties have beach wheelchairs available for use, though they are not the floating kind.

The lightweight chairs with balloon-like wheels are made so that they can maneuver easily over sand and help make the beach accessible to everyone.

June Krollman of Virginia recently visited Bogue Banks and was surprised with the chance to sit on the beach with the help of a beach wheelchair her friend found was available from the Town of Pine Knoll Shores.

“I said with the sand I can’t walk on the beach and he said, ‘You’re going to the beach.’ I had no idea in this world there was such a thing,” Krollman said. “I was such a surprise.”

Krollman, 87, said she and her late husband, Ronald, loved taking vacations to the beach; and being able to get back on the sand with the help of the beach wheelchair made her trip to Pine Knoll Shore extra special.

“I look forward to going back and using the wheelchair again. We call it the beach buggy,” Krollman said.

While Santiago hasn’t had experience with the local beach wheelchairs, she said it’s important to make people aware of the efforts to provide accessibility to the beach for those with physical disabilities, difficulty with mobility or other issues that might make accessing the beach an obstacle.

“I know there must be a lot of seniors that go to the beach but can’t walk on that sand,” she said. “If they don’t have the wheelchairs they miss out on so much they’ve enjoyed before.”

Beach communities on both Bogue Banks and Topsail Island provide beach wheelchairs; all are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fort Macon State Park recently dedicated four new beach wheelchairs ready for use this summer.

Park Superintendent Randy Newman said the chairs they previously had were in disrepair and out of service.

With more than 220,000 visitors to the park’s beach access last summer, Newman said they see many requests for use of the beach wheelchairs, which are available during the summer months at the bathhouse and by calling the park office during other times of year.

Newman said the new wheelchairs were a donation from the ACCESS North Carolina program as part of accessibility improvement projects at state-owned tourist attractions.

Newman said they want all visitors to enjoy the park to the fullest extent possible.

“We want them to have the opportunity to experience all the park has to offer,” Newman said.

Along Bogue Banks, beach wheelchairs are also provided by the towns of Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle. Contact each town’s fire department about availability or for additional information.

The towns of North Topsail Beach and Surf City on Topsail Island also provide beach wheelchairs. Contact the respective town’s police department for more information or for availability.

Officials in each of the towns say the chairs are well-used.

The Town of North Topsail Beach has two beach wheelchairs and is the only beach town in the area to also have a beach walker.

“There’s quite a demand for them, especially in the summer,” Assistant Town Manager Carin Faulkner said.

There are two public beach accesses within the town that have handicap-accessible ramps. There is also an access near town hall where wheelchairs can be pushed from the parking lot straight onto the beach.

Surf City has two beach wheelchairs, with five beach accesses where they can be used.

Back on Bogue Banks, the Town of Emerald Isle has the largest number of chairs, with seven available for public use.

The chairs are made available through the fire department, and Fire Chief Bill Walker said the ones they have stay in regular use.

“During the summer they go out every day,” Walker said.

Walker said the challenge is keeping them in service. He said they try to replace one each year but have some that they repair but may have frames 15 years old.

Walker said the chairs were provided free of charge but the town does accept donations to help with replacement costs.

“It can be $3,000 to replace one so it takes a while to build that up,” he said.

And town leaders want to give visitors every opportunity to access the beach with their friends and family.

Atlantic Beach has two chairs and Pine Knoll Shores and Indian Beach each have one.

Pine Knoll Shores Town Manager Brian Kramer said the chair they have is used at the Iron Steamer beach access and the town has worked to make the wheelchair accessibility as user-friendly as possible. The public works department improved the ramp to make it easier to get the wheelchair from the parking lot to the beach.

Additionally, he said, the members of the fire department have made it a practice to help get folks get the chair to the beach — and onto the beach — if they are concerned about being able to do so.

Krollman said the members of the fire department went out of their way to help them when they tried out the beach wheelchair.

Those planning to give the chairs a try should keep a few things in mind.

The chairs are available for day-use only.

The models and size of the chairs vary and transportation is something to consider.

During the summer, Fort Macon keeps theirs secured at the bathhouse, where there is a ramp directly to the beach. In most cases, however, the chairs must be picked up at one location and taken to a beach access site.

There are collapsible chairs available in Emerald Isle, which helps make them easier to transport, but not all chairs are and users may need a truck or larger vehicle to transport the chair.

People planning to use the chairs will also need to keep in mind they will need to use a beach access location with either direct access to the sand from the parking area or a location with a handicap-accessible ramp.

Santiago said one of her concerns would be struggling to maneuver the chairs over deep, soft sand. She said the chair they used in Tybee Island also came with a beach access mat. The portable roll-out mats provide for easy access to the beach for people of all abilities. They can accommodate wheelchairs as well as light vehicles such as strollers, bicycles and ATVs.

None of the beaches in the area have the beach access mats. Not yet, anyway.

Realty World First Coast Realty in Atlantic Beach has started a fundraising effort, Dogs for a Cause, to raise awareness about different needs in the Carteret County area.

They hold hot dog lunches monthly and this year have chosen to raise about $5,800 to purchase more than 200 feet of beach access mats, said Cyndy Mann, the agency’s vice president of operations.

“One of our agents told us about the mats, which they had seen somewhere else, and we thought that would be a great way to help people access the beach,” Mann said. “The mats can be used by people who may have a physical disability or also parents who may have their kids in strollers. It could benefit a lot of people.”

The initial mat will be used in Atlantic Beach. Depending on how things go, they could continue the effort to purchase mats for other locations, Mann said.



Beach wheelchairs are available for public use at several locations in Carteret and Onslow counties. Contact the following agencies for more information:

Carteret County

Atlantic Beach Fire Department, 252-726-7361

Emerald Isle Fire Department, 252-354-2445

Indian Beach Fire Department, 252-247-7994

Pine Knoll Shores Fire/EMS Department, 252-247-2268

Fort Macon State Park, 252-726-3775

Onslow County/Topsail Island

North Topsail Beach Police Department, 910-328-0042

Surf City Police Department, 910-328-7711