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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2020-244
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2020-244
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  18 Aug 2020

18 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

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

Sebastian J. Pitman1, Katie Thompson1, Deirdre E. Hart1, Kevin Moran2, Shari L. Gallop3,4, Robert W. Brander5, and Adam Wooler6 Sebastian J. Pitman et al.
  • 1School of Earth and Environment, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • 2University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
  • 3University of Waikato, Tauranga, New Zealand
  • 4Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
  • 5School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney, Australia
  • 6Surf Life Saving New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand

Abstract. 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 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 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.

Sebastian J. Pitman et al.

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Short summary
This study aimed to identify how well beach users could spot rip currents in real time at the beach. It was performed in response to the fact that rip currents are the leading cause of drownings on recreational beaches worldwide. We found that only 1 in 5 people were able to spot the rip current, meaning the vast majority would be unable to make good decisions about where is safe to swim at the beach.
This study aimed to identify how well beach users could spot rip currents in real time at the...
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