Aquatic Accidents: Expert witness consulting by Ph.D. Scientists



The Aquatic Accidents group specializes in water accident reconstruction, forensic investigation, expert witness services and case consultation.  

A Ph.D. in coastal sciences is necessary to fully understand and interpret accidents in the ocean and other moving water bodies.  Drs. Stephen P. and Stephen B. Leatherman have practical and scientific background and expertise to determine causal elements and recommend corrective action to improve water safety and minimize litigation exposure. 

Their depth of knowledge in physical processes,  the scientific method and breadth of experience make them the expert witnesses of choice to appear before courts and regulatory agencies.   Other members of the group have public swimming pool management experience.


Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman

Professor at Florida International University


Ph.D., Environmental (Coastal) Sciences, University of Virginia, 1976

B.S., Geosciences, North Carolina State University, 1970


20 books and National Academy reports authored or edited including National Geographic Field Guide to the Water’s Edge; Dr. Beach’s Survival Guide: What You Need to Know About Sharks, Rip Currents, & More Before Going in the WaterAmerica’s Best BeachesSea Level Rise: Causes and ConsequencesCape Cod: From Glaciers to Beaches.

Over 200 journal articles and technical reports authored, including articles in both Science and Nature

Expert testimony for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives (11 times).

On-screen host and co-producer, “Vanishing Lands” film, 1991, winner of three international film awards, including the Golden Eagle.

Professional Presentations

Over 100 speeches at national and international scientific conferences including Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, England, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Micronesia, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Thailand, Venezuela & Wales.

Over 300 public presentations including talks at Meadow Club, Southampton, NY; Chappaquiddick Beach Club, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Ocean Beach Erosion Workshop, San Francisco, CA; Shores and Beaches Workshop, Palm Beach, FL; American Bar Association National Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Media Coverage

TV appearances include ABC Nightly News, ABC Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, CBS Early Show, NBC Nightly News, NBC Today Show, The Weather Channel, CNN News, Fox News, Oprah, American Journal and Travel Channel (over 200 appearances).

Quoted in Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Discover, People, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Health, Congressional Quarterly, Economist, U.S. News & World Report, Business Week, Brides, Popular Science, National Geographic Traveler, Shape, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Washingtonian, Islands International, Coastal Living, and many other magazines.

Quoted in the New York TimesWashington Post, Boston Globe, Houston Post, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, The Times-Picayune, Houston Chronicle, St. Petersburg Times, London Sunday Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, The Guardian (London), Tampa Tribune, and Christian Science Monitor, and numerous other newspapers.



Dr. Stephen B. Leatherman


  • Ph.D. in Geosciences, Florida International University, 2018.

  • BS in Environmental Science, New College–the Honors College of Florida, 2013.

  • Graduated as honor student at Palmetto Senior High School, 2009.

Refereed Journal Articles and Book Chapters

  • Leatherman, S. B., and Porter, J., 2019, Particle Image Velocimetry Tracking of Rip Currents Using Drones, North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, in preparation.

  • Leatherman, S. B., 2019, Rip Current Generation and Management Implications in South Florida, in preparation.

  • Zhang, K., Zhang, M. and Leatherman, S. B., 2019, Quantifying and Rating Rip Current Hazards for Beachgoers, Natural Hazards, in review.

  • Leatherman, S.B., 2017, Techniques for Rip Current Detection and Measurement, International Journal of Earth Science & Geophysics, 3:014.

  • Leatherman, S. B., 2017, Rip Flow Characteristics and Escape Strategies in South Florida, Shore and Beach, V. 85, p. 30-34.

  • Leatherman, S. B., 2017, Rip Current Measurements at Three South Florida Beaches, Journal of Coastal Research, V. 33, p. 1228-1234.

  • Leatherman S. P. and Leatherman, S. B., 2017, Sea Level Change, in the International Encyclopedia of Geography, People, the Earth, Environment and Technology, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, p. 6084-6093.

  • Leatherman, S. B., 2016, Rip Currents in South Florida: A Major Coastal Hazard and Management Challenge, Journal of Coastal Zone Management, V. 19:431, Doi: 10.4172/2473-3350.1000431.

  • Leatherman, S. B., 2015, Rip current hazard on Florida and South Georgia beaches, Shore and Beach, V. 83, p 63-66.

  • Leatherman, S. B., Leatherman, S. P. and Haus, B., 2013. Bar height and rip current presence and strength, Shore and Beach, V. 81, 19-22.

Professional Presentations

  • “Quantifying and Rating Rip Current Hazard in South Florida,” Florida Society of Geographers, Orlando, Florida, February 8, 2019.

  • “Rip Current Generation, Flow Characteristics, and Implications for Beach Safety in South Florida,” American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Melbourne, Florida, February 10, 2018.

  • “Rip Current Detection and Measurement in South Florida,” Seminar Series, New College of Florida, Sarasota, FL, October 13, 2017.

  • “Rip Current Measurements at Three South Florida Beaches,” National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL, July 14, 2016.

  • “Rip Current Activity in Florida,” Rip Current Workshop, Jaco Beach, Costa Rica, July 14, 2014.

  • “Rip Current Hazard on Florida and South Georgia Beaches,” American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Tampa, Florida, April 9, 2014.

Professional Research Experience

  • Drone particle image velocimetry of rip currents on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii in conjunction with Dr. John Porter of the University of Hawaii, March 2018

  • Public Survey of Beachgoer’s Knowledge of Rip Currents at Coopers Beach for Eastern Long Island Coastal Conservation Alliance, Inc, Southampton, New York, July 2013.

  • Erosion Hotspot Identification Using Geographic Information Systems on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, January 2012.

  • Wave Tank Experiment of Rip Currents at the University of Miami, January 2011.

  • Forest Vegetation Density Investigation in the Amazon River, Peru through New College of Florida, January 2010.

  • Hurricanes in Belize – Implications for Aerial Distribution of Papaya Crops for Brooks Tropical, Homestead, Florida, June 2010.

  • Cliff Stability Analysis in Peconic Bay on Long Island, NY for Belvedere Management Company, New York City, July 2009.

Professional Organizations

  • Member, Geological Society of America, 2015 – present.

  • Member, American Association of Geographers, 2014 – present.

  • Member, Florida Society of Geographers, 2016 – present.

Technical Expertise

  • Trimble R8 RTK GPS

  • RIEGL Terrestrial Lidar

  • DJI Phantom Drone

Relevant Graduate Coursework

  • Coastal Processes

  • Coastal Hazards

  • Hydrogeologic Modeling

  • GIS Analysis in the Earth Sciences

  • Advanced GIS for Environmental Data

  • Remote Sensing in Hydrology

  • Geophysical Data Analysis

  • Earth Systems Modeling

Awards and Honors

  • Presidential Fellowship from Florida International University (2013-2015).

  • Bright Future Scholarship and New College Scholarship (2009-2013).

  • Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America (2008).

  • National Honor Roll, Palmetto Senior High School.

Certifications Earned

  • Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (sUAV) professional license.

  • NAUI scuba certification.

  • Water Safety Instructor by American Red Cross.

  • Lifeguard certification by American Red Cross.

  • CPR certification by American Red Cross.

  • Boating License (Canada).



Debora A. Leatherman


  • M.A. in Human Resource Management, Pepperdine University, 1979.

  • B.S. in Recreation Administration, Kent State University, 1973.

Professional Experience

  • Over 10 years of lifeguard/swim instructor experience.

  • 15 years of experience in pool management .

  • Current gold medalist, Pan American Masters Synchronized Swimming Championships.

Aquatic Management Experience

  • City of Winter Park, Florida.

    • Served on accident investigation committee.

  • Manager,Grande Island, Subic Bay Naval Base, Philippines.

    • A 96-acre ocean resort island with a hotel, cottages and swimming pool with hourly shuttleboat service -98 employees.

    • Supervised life-guarded ocean beach with water sports, scuba diving and boat rentals.

  • Manager, Theresa Banks Memorial Pool in Mitchellville, Maryland.

    • Indoor public swimming pool.

  • Manager, Herbert E. Wells Ice Rink and Ellen Linson Swimming Pool in College Park, Maryland.

    • Combination of indoor public swimming pool and ice rink facility.

  • Assistant Recreation Director, Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, California.

    • Planned aquatic special events: whale watching trips, pool parties, beach parties, sea hikes, tide pool walk, sail boating, fishing.

Certifications Earned

  • Lifeguard.

  • Water Safety Instructor.

  • Pool Operator.

  • PADI Scuba.

  • Experience in white water rafting, water skiing, and canoeing.

  • Wind Surfing Certification.

  • Synchronized Swimming Judge.

  • Boat Operator License.