America’s Deadliest Beaches

Thanks to Daily Mail for this:

The ranking was generated using data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Shark Institute.

It considers three main dangers: the number of surf fatalities since 2010, the number of shark attacks since 2010, and the number of hurricanes between 1851 and 2020.

America’s Deadliest Beaches (image by Mike Fogarty)

Top 10 Deadliest Beaches in United States


1. New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 10 – Shark attacks: 32 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 8.14/10

The most deadly beach in the USA is New Smyrna Beach, a well-known surfing spot just north of Orlando and on the state’s east coast. It is a serious victim to all three major threats: sharks, hurricanes and surf-related accidents.

Shark attacks and surf accidents may be related though. The Miami Herald reported in 2015 that surf inhibits visibility and that sharks – mainly blacktips and spinners in New Smyrna Beach – react to the splashes created by padding surfers.

In 2021 a boy was recorded paddling out from the shore of New Smyrna Beach on his surfboard when a six-foot shark sliced through the waves and took a chunk out of his arm.


2. Cocoa Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 7 – Shark attacks: 7 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 7.57/10

Unsurprisingly Cocoa Beach, which came in second place, is not far from New Smyrna beach and known for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. The stretch of land its on is sometimes dubbed Florida’s Space Coast.

Cocoa Beach has had significantly fewer shark attacks, but surf zone fatalities remain relatively high, at seven. A surf zone is the area in the water between the shore and where the waves begin to break.

The National Weather Service has identified three main hazards that contribute to deaths in the surf zone:

Rip current – a powerful narrow channel of fast moving water which can move things in its path directly away from the shore and into the ocean

High surf – a term used to describe when especially large waves crash onto the shore. It is often caused by coastal storms that trigger fast winds

Sneaker wave – one disproportionately large wave that suddenly bombards a beach, taking people by surprise and sweeping them out into the water


3. Ormond Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 8 – Shark attacks: 4 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 7.48/10

In third position is Ormond beach, which is only around 20 miles north of New Smyrna but notably safer than the first two when it comes to sharks. Its close proximity to its more dangerous neighbors means that like them, it can also be vulnerable to hurricanes.

All three beaches were devastated by Hurricanes Ian and Niccole which cost Volusia County, host to both New Smyrna and Cocoa Beach, $858million and $51million respectively.

In 2020 a 17-year-old surfer was 100 feet from the coast when he was knocked from his surfboard by a shark and bitten on the right leg. It was thought to be a six or seven-foot blacktip.

America’s Deadliest Beaches


4. Panama City Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 24 – Shark attacks: 2 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 7.16/10

Panama City Beach is very distinct from the top three deadly beaches because it’s on the Gulf of Mexico as opposed to the Atlantic. It is, however, also in Florida.

What sets it out as especially dangerous is the number of people that have died in its deadly surf zone. The weather service warts that along the southern gulf coast, from Mississippi to Florida, ‘life-threatening rip currents are possible’.

Brandon Polkowski of the Panama City Beach Fire Department told local news channel WJHG in 2021 at the time of Hurricane Ida that although the water might not look dangerous, deadly currents are active beneath the surface.

‘Even if we have smaller one to three foot surf that is not necessarily intimidating to tourists we still have well-defined rip currents that can be extremely deceiving,’ he said.

In July of 2021 a six-year-old boy went missing while at the beach with his family. He had been standing in knee-height water when he vanished from his parents sight, the Panama City News Herald reported. His body was found the next day.

Panama City Beach is not only known for its lethal currents, the coastal city has been devastated by hurricanes too.


5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Surf zone fatalities: 15 – Shark attacks: 9 – Hurricanes: 31 – Overall danger: 6.61/10

Myrtle Beach is the central attraction of the eponymous seaside city, popular not only for its beach but also its iconic boardwalk and fairground rides.

Unlike many of the other beaches on the travel blog’s list, its location in South Carolina makes it a little less vulnerable to hurricanes.

Nonetheless, in August last year two swimmers were attacked by sharks within just hours. One of them was a Pittsburgh grandmother who suffered a ‘bad bite’ on her arm as she waded in waist-deep water. She was rushed to hospital and received hundreds of stitches to close her wound.

Sharks found in the waters off Myrtle Beach include great whites, bull sharks, sand tigers, tiger sharks, blacktips, lemon sharks, and hammerheads.

Although the shark that attacked the Pittsburgh grandmother was highly unlikely to have been a great white, there have been increasing reports of them in the area.

That same month Breton, an OCEARCH-tagged 13-foot great white shark, was pinged about 60 miles from the coast of Myrtle Beach, Nature World News reported.

It’s common for great white sharks to pass by South Carolina in the summer due to their seasonal migration patterns, which involve moving from Canada or New England to Florida in the summer and again down to Florida in the winter.


6. Melbourne Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 3 – Shark attacks: 6 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 6.35/10

Back in Florida and less than 20 miles south of Cocoa Beach is Melbourne Beach. Here the surf zone is much less deadly than its neighboring beach but shark attacks remain relatively common.

A few years ago a helicopter flying above the waters detected what was thought to be a five-foot long blacktip ominously lurking in the shallow waters.

Although blacktips aren’t the largest sharks, they do make up 20% of all unprovoked shark attacks across America.

America’s Deadliest Beaches


7. Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 3 – Shark attacks: 3 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 6.02/10

Jacksonville beach is one of the northernmost beaches in Florida and just south of Georgia.

Ahead of Hurricane Nicole last year Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue instructed people not to swim and to stay away from the beach altogether for fear of a storm surge, that might bring in 15-foot waves.

Shark attacks and deadly surf zone incidents are also known to affect the area.


8. Oak Island, North Carolina

Surf zone fatalities: 8 – Shark attacks: 2 – Hurricanes: 58 – Overall danger: 6.02/10

By far the most northern beach on the list, Oak Island, is quieter than Myrtle Beach to the south. It’s known for white sandy beaches and blue-green waters.

Swimmers and surfers should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the beach’s serenity, however. Just last June three people were killed in a single month at the beach, local channel ABC11 reported.

Oak Island Water Rescue blamed the spate of deaths on rip currents and regularly posts advice to swimmers on its social media pages, emphasizing that currents can be very hard to spot from the shore.

Rip currents will be plentiful and strong,’ it wrote in September, advising people not to enter the water under any circumstances.


9. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Surf zone fatalities: 5 – Shark attacks: 3 – Hurricanes: 23 – Overall danger: 5.38/10

The Gulf Shores, like Panama City Beach, lie on the stretch of Gulf coast which is particularly vulnerable to rip tides, as specified by the weather service.

Although its in ninth position on the ranking, its one of the most dangerous places in America to be in the surf zone.


10. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Surf zone fatalities: 3 – Shark attacks: 2 – Hurricanes: 120 – Overall danger: 5.37/10

Much like Jacksonville Beach, this massive beach is relatively tame compared with some of its Floridian counterparts. It is, however, considered to be in the top ten most dangerous beaches in the country.

Fort Lauderdale is a popular Spring Break destination so sees tens of thousands of students visit each year. Naturally, beaches that visited by more people are more likely to be deadly.

In June three swimmers were rescued when they were whisked away by a rip current. Despite rescue efforts, one of them did not survive.

America’s Deadliest Beaches
America’s Deadliest Beaches
America’s Deadliest Beaches

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