"You can't see them from sitting here": Evaluating beach user understanding of a rip current warning sign Academic Article uri icon


  • 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Rip current warning signs complement lifeguards and flags on many beaches globally to alert beach users to the danger of rip currents and to inform beach users about how to identify and avoid rip currents. Although rip current warning signs, such as the sign distributed by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are an important part of any beach safety program, their effectiveness is unknown. Moreover, we do not know how beach users respond to or perceive the rip-current warnings represented graphically and textually. Here we report on a spatially and temporally randomized survey of 392 beach users from three heavily frequented public beaches in Texas (Galveston, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi) at the height of the summer beach season in 2012. Beach users were asked to respond to the rip current warning sign developed in 2003-2004 by the U.S. Rip Current Task Force. Nearly half of respondents did not notice any warning sign when approaching the beach. When prompted by enumerators with the Task Force sign, 44.5% of beach users found the sign was "helpful" or "very helpful" to their ability to identify a rip current. However, more than half of beach users had difficulty translating the rip current image into a feature observable while standing or sitting on the shore. Many beach users will respond to a warning sign showing the rip current from the perspective of place, rather than the aerial view representing the ocean as space. This realization guides our specific suggestions for improving the current NOAA warning signs.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 39

author list (cited authors)

  • Brannstrom, C., Brown, H. L., Houser, C., Trimble, S., & Santos, A.

citation count

  • 59

complete list of authors

  • Brannstrom, Christian||Brown, Heather Lee||Houser, Chris||Trimble, Sarah||Santos, Anna

publication date

  • January 2015