Natural Hazards

, Volume 81, Issue 2, pp 845–867 | Cite as

Delaware surf zone injuries and associated environmental conditions

  • Jack A. PuleoEmail author
  • Katie Hutschenreuter
  • Paul Cowan
  • Wendy Carey
  • Michelle Arford-Granholm
  • Kimberly K. McKenna
Original Paper


Surf zone injury and environmental condition data were collected concurrently during the summer of 2014 along the Delaware coast. Documented injury data included injury type, gender, age and activity, while measured environmental conditions included local wave height, wave period and foreshore slope. Daily water user counts were used to normalize injury rates relative to the number of beachgoers at risk. There were 280 injuries over 116 sample days along the entire Delaware coast and 169 injuries over 82 sample days within the 5-beach focused study area where water user count data were available. Injuries were not distributed randomly as tested against a Poisson distribution and occurred in clusters with up to 15 injuries occurring in a single day. There were 32 serious injuries (cervical fractures, spinal cord injuries) and 1 fatality. Water user counts throughout the course of a day exceeded 25,000 on busy weekends such that the mean injury rate was 0.02 %. Men were twice as likely to be injured relative to women, and the mean injury age was 32 years old. Tourists were six times more likely to be injured compared to local beachgoers. Wading (44 %) was the dominant injury activity followed by body surfing (20 %) and body boarding (17 %). Direct correlation between injury occurrence or injury rate and any environmental factors was weak (highest squared correlation coefficient <0.12), but the highest injury rates were associated with moderate wave height (0.6 m) with lower injury rates for both smaller and larger waves. Lack of direct correlation between injury occurrence or injury rate and environmental parameters suggests there was an important (and as yet undetermined) human element that also dictates the injury rate. Additionally, the high proportion of injuries to tourists may require alternate strategies in local beach safety and injury awareness campaigns.


Injury rate Beach slope Wave height Beach tourism 



This research was supported by the National Sea Grant College Program of the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Grant #NA10OAR4170084, in coordination with the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program. The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of those organizations. We thank Douglas Krafft, Ryan Mieras, Veronica Citerone, Anna Jane, Aline Pieterse, Nick DiCosmo, Jose Carlos Pintado-Patino, Liles Joia, Patricia Chardon-Maldonado, Anthony McIver, Carlos Rosario and Mohammad Keshtpoor for assisting with WU counts. Veronica Citerone also assisted with daily GPS surveys. Jeremiah Kogon and Hank Fulmer provided boating and diving expertise in sensor deployment. Town managers (Sharon Lynn, Cliff Graviet, Marc Appelbaum) and the DNREC park superintendent (Pat Cooper) provided access to the field sites and other necessary logistics. Beach patrol managers and captains (Bryan John, Joe Donnelly, Todd Fritchman, Kris Knutsen, Kent Buckson) also assisted in the study. Nicole Minni drafted Fig. 4. We thank the anonymous reviewers for providing detailed comments that improved the clarity and reduced the length of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jack A. Puleo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katie Hutschenreuter
    • 1
  • Paul Cowan
    • 2
  • Wendy Carey
    • 3
  • Michelle Arford-Granholm
    • 2
  • Kimberly K. McKenna
    • 4
  1. 1.Center for Applied Coastal ResearchUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Beebe HealthcareLewesUSA
  3. 3.Delaware Sea Grant College ProgramUniversity of DelawareLewesUSA
  4. 4.Division of Watershed StewardshipDelaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental ControlDoverUSA

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