Supporting safer coastlines: Exploring the social dimensions of rip current hazards

Rip currents (also known as rips and rip tides) are a common hazard on beaches worldwide that develop when breaking waves across a wide surf zone vary alongshore. Rips are believed to be responsible for a majority of rescues and fatalities on beaches around the world. In Canada alone, it estimated that 80% of all drownings and rescues are associated with rips. While we understand how and where rips form, the physical dimensions of the hazard, we understand very little about the social dimensions of the hazard. Until we understand how people use the beach and when and why they decide to enter the water, it is difficult to be able to reduce the number of drownings.

The proposed research will take place at popular beach destinations on the north shore of Prince Edward Island where there are known rip currents near the main access point to the beach, and despite warning flags and a lifeguard program, there have been several drownings in recent years.


The social dimensions of the rip hazard will be assessed through a series of surveys distributed over two weeks at two different beaches along PEI’s north coast. This survey will give us a better understanding of what people know about the rip hazard on the studied beaches and in general and give us much-needed data on how they interact with the hazard in both time and space.

Who benefits from this research?

All coastal communities in Canada and worldwide will benefit from this research, where both locals and tourists are at risk of drowning due to rip currents. Prince Edward Island has a large number of tourists that travel to Cavendish and Brackley Beach through the summer months. The outcomes of this research will be the basis for new management strategies to reduce the number of drownings. In this respect, any person, company, or government in a coastal community should care about this research since it can impact every person who enters the water.


Parks Canada Partnership

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Parks Canada recognizes the research initiatives proposed by this project and will provide the backdrop for this study at Cavendish Beach, and Brackley Beach, P.E.I. Accommodation will be provided to the researchers for the duration of the study in P.E.I.

Thank you for your support.


Summer Locknick

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Summer Locknick, a Master of Earth Science student at the University of Windsor, has been studying rip currents for three years while also completing her Bachelor's of Environmental Studies. Under the supervision of Dr. Chris Houser, Dean of Science at the University of Windsor, she is continuing her research of the rip current hazard in Prince Edward Island. Globally, rip currents account for approximately 80% of drowning deaths and rescues. This research's objective is to reduce the number of drownings related to rip currents across Canada and the world, where the research will provide guidance for the need to implement, improve or enhance existing beach safety material, and to identify the type and format of pre-trip information that will assist in reducing the number of rip-related fatalities.