Using VR to learn how to escape a rip current

As Long Islanders flock to the shore this summer, Hofstra University is helping beachgoers learn the basics of rip current safety before they get in the water.

"It's surprising how little some people do know about beach safety and rip currents," said Antoinette Montes, a Hofstra student researcher. 

Researchers like Montes and Jase Bernhardt, an assistant professor at Hofstra University, are swapping the traditional classroom setting for brand-new virtual reality equipment to immerse the user into an ocean simulation. The person wearing the goggles becomes the swimmer.

Rip currents kill more than 100 people nationwide every year and account for more than 80% of lifeguard rescues, according to the United States Lifesaving Association. Experts say the main reason for that is not knowing how to get out of one.

"Rip currents themselves actually will not pull you under," Bernhardt said. "But what might happen is, especially if you're a weaker swimmer or get very nervous and scared, you'll fight the rip current and try to go back towards shore."

However, as we learned in the simulation, the correct way to safely navigate out of a rip current is by swimming parallel to shore.

Hofstra University received $11,000 towards the purchase of two sets of virtual reality equipment through the New York Sea Grant program. Bernhardt hopes the project will grasp the attention of the younger generation and bring more awareness to beach safety.