Design criteria for coastal defenses exposed to wave overtopping are usually assessed by mean overtopping discharges and maximum individual overtopping volumes. However, it is often difficult to give clear and precise limits of tolerable overtopping for all kinds of layouts. A few studies analyzed the relationship between wave overtopping flows and hazard levels for people on sea dikes, confirming that one single value of admissible mean discharge or individual overtopping volume is not a sufficient indicator of the hazard, but detailed characterization of flow velocities and depths is required. This work presents the results of an experimental campaign aiming at analyzing the validity of the safety limits and design criteria for overtopping discharge applied to an urbanized stretch of the Catalan coast, exposed to significant overtopping events every stormy season. The work compares different safety criteria for pedestrians. The results prove that the safety of pedestrians on a sea dike can be still guaranteed, even for overtopping volumes larger than 1,000 L/m. Sea storms characterized by deep-water wave height between 3.6 and 4.5 m lead to overtopping flow depth values larger than 1 m and flow velocities up to 20 m/s. However, pedestrian hazard is proved to be linked to the combination of overtopping flow velocity and flow depth rather than to single maximum values of one of these parameters. The use of stability curves to assess people’s stability under overtopping waves is therefore advised.
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