Beachgoers’ ability to identify rip currents at a beach in situ

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Discussion / Working Papers
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Pitman S
Thompson K
Hart D
Moran K
Gallop S
Brander R
Wooler A

Rip currents (“rips”) are the leading cause of drowning on surf beaches worldwide. A major contributing factor is that many beachgoers are unable to identify rip currents. Previous research has attempted to quantify beachgoers’ rip spotting ability using photographs of rip currents, without identifying whether this usefully translates into an ability to spot a rip current in situ at the beach. This study is the first to compare beachgoers ability to spot rip currents in photographs and in situ at a beach 5 in New Zealand (Muriwai Beach) where a channel rip current was present. Only 22% of respondents were able to identify the in situ rip current. The highest rates of success were for males (33%), New Zealand residents (25%), and local beach users (29%). Of all respondents who were successful at identifying the rip current in situ, 62% were active surfers/bodyboarders and 28% were active beach swimmers. Of the respondents who were able to identify a rip current in two photographs, only 34% were unable to translate this into a successful in situ rip identification, which suggests that the ability to identify rip currents by 10 beachgoers is worse than reported by previous studies involving photographs. This study highlights the difficulty of successfully identifying a rip current in reality and that photographs are not necessarily a useful means of teaching individuals to spot rip currents. It advocates for the use of more immersive and realistic education strategies, such as the use of virtual reality headsets showing moving imagery (videos) of rip currents in order to improve rip spotting ability.

Pitman S, Thompson K, Hart D, Moran K, Gallop S, Brander R, Wooler A (2020). Beachgoers’ ability to identify rip currents at a beach in situ. Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences.
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ANZSRC fields of research
Fields of Research::37 - Earth sciences::3708 - Oceanography::370803 - Physical oceanography
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