Skip to main content

Perception of the rip current hazard on Galveston Island and North Padre Island, Texas, USA


The hazard posed by a rip current depends in part on the ability of beach users to identify a rip current and to associate surf conditions with the potential for rip currents. Understanding which visual features beach users associated with rip currents is an important step in the development of appropriate programs and educational materials aimed at improving the ability of beach users to identify a rip current. A face-to-face survey (n = 392) was conducted to assess the ability of beach users to identify a rip current using five near eye-level photographs that simulate the view of the beach and surf zone as the respondent approached the beach. The survey was conducted on three heavily used public beaches in Texas (Galveston, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi) at the height of the summer beach season in 2012. Only 13 % of respondents correctly selected the photograph showing the most hazardous conditions and correctly identified the precise location of the rip current on the photograph. The majority of beach users (87 %) incorrectly indicated that the photograph with the heaviest surf represented the most hazardous surf conditions and greatest potential for the development of rip currents, or failed to identify rip currents in photographs. Respondents who were able to correctly identify the rip current tended to recognize the breaking wave pattern, areas of darker water, or the proximity to structures as key visual characteristics of rip currents and also had higher self-reported abilities to swim in rough water and escape a rip current.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5


  • Alford S (2012a) Padre Island Seashore recognized as top Texas beach by USA Today. Corpus Christi Caller, 30 May

  • Alford S (2012b) Corpus Christi tourism officials release preliminary spring break numbers. Corpus Christi Caller, 30 March.

  • Angelou Economics (2008) Galveston Island: tourism economic impact analysis (unpublished report)

  • Brander RW (1999) Field observations on the morphodynamic evolution of a low-energy rip current system. Mar Geol 157:199–217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brander RW (2013) Thinking space: can a synthesis of geography save lives in the surf? Aust Geogr 44:123–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brander R, Dominey-Howes D, Champion C, Del Vecchio O, Brighton B (2013) A new perspective on the Australian rip current hazard. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 13:1687–1690

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brighton B, Sherker S, Brander R, Thompson M, Bradstreet A (2013) Rip current related drowning deaths and rescues in Australia: 2004–2011. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 13:1069–1075

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caldwell N, Houser C, Meyer-Arendt K (2013) Ability of beach users to identify rip currents at Pensacola Beach, Florida. Nat Hazards 68:1041–1056

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drozdzewski D, Shaw W, Dominey-Howes D, Brander R, Walton T, Gero A, Sherker S, Goff J, Edwick B (2012) Surveying rip current survivors: preliminary insights into the experiences of being caught in rip currents. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 12:1201–1211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gensini VA, Ashley WS (2010) An examination of rip current fatalities in the United States. Nat Hazards 54:159–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hatfield J, Williamson A, Sherker S, Brander R, Hayen A (2012) Development and evaluation of an intervention to reduce rip current related beach drowning. Accid Anal Prev 46:45–51

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Houser C, Barrett G, Labude D (2011) Alongshore variation in the rip current hazard at Pensacola Beach, Florida. Nat Hazards 57:501–523

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lushine JB (1991) A study of rip current drownings and related weather factors. Natl Weather Digest 16:13–19

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan D, Ozanne-Smith J, Triggs T (2009) Self-reported water and drowning risk exposure at surf beaches. Aust N Z J Public Health 33(2):180–188

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nielsen-Gammon JW (2001) The tropical sea breeze. Ninth conference on mesoscale processes, pp 4

  • Rice H (2012a) Huge holiday crowds cause traffic headaches in Galveston. Houston Chronicle, 29 May.

  • Rice H (2012b) Crowds spell strong finish to Galveston’s tourist season. Houston Chronicle, 4 September.

  • Sherker S, Williamson A, Hatfield J, Brander R, Hayen A (2010) Beachgoers’ beliefs and behaviours in relation to beach flags and rip currents. Accid Anal Prev 42:1785–1804

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Short AD, Hogan CI (1994) Rip currents and beach hazards: their impact on public safety and implications for coastal management. J Coast Res SI12:197–209

    Google Scholar 

  • Surf Life Saving Australia (2009) Annual report, SLSA, Sydney, surf life saving Australia: national coastal safety report, SLSA, Sydney, 2005–2011

  • Wilks J, de Nardi M, Wodarski R (2007) Close is not close enough: drowning and rescues outside flagged beach patrol areas in Australia. Tour Mar Environ 4:57–62

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williamson A, Hatfield J, Sherker S, Brander R, Hayen A (2012) A comparison of attitudes and knowledge of beach safety in Australia for beachgoers, rural residents and international tourists. Aust N Z J Public Health 36:385–391

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was supported by Texas Sea Grant (R/ES-12). We thank Peter Davis and the Galveston Island Beach Patrol for their support and contributions to this study and three reviewers whose comments improved the paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christian Brannstrom.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Brannstrom, C., Trimble, S., Santos, A. et al. Perception of the rip current hazard on Galveston Island and North Padre Island, Texas, USA. Nat Hazards 72, 1123–1138 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Rip current
  • Perception
  • Hazard
  • Vulnerability
  • Texas
  • Surf zone