With big winter surf coming, time for a Hawaii ocean safety refresher


In winter months, huge waves hit the north shores of the Hawaiian Islands. They’re perfect challenges for professional and highly experienced surfers. For the inexperienced, unfamiliar person, these waves are dangerous. It’s best for most folks to marvel at the big waves from a safe distance on the shore.

From a previous ocean safety article, here are some basic tips for staying safe whether in big wave season or not.

Ocean/Beach Safety

  • Never turn your back to the ocean. When you are swimming or simply standing or walking by the shoreline, you never know when a strong wave might sneak up on you. The waves could appear to be predictable for many minutes before  a rogue wave hits.
  • Don’t swim alone or in isolated areas.
  • If in doubt, don’t go out. If you aren’t sure of the conditions, don’t risk it.
  • Where possible swim at beaches with lifeguards. You can find beaches with lifeguards at this link. If a beach is not monitored by a lifeguard, politely ask a local about the safety of the area.
  • Check posted safety signs.
  • Avoid swimming at night, dawn and dusk. That’s when sharks tend to be the most aggressive and active.
  • On Oahu, box jellyfish usually arrive to the south shore approximately 7 to 11 days after the full moon of each month. For Oahu, check this Box jellyfish arrival prediction calendar.
  • Review this additional beach and ocean safety information and check conditions at Hawaii Beach Safety
  • Wear a flotation device when kayaking, snorkeling, canoeing, etc.
  • Don’t swim in brown water as it could be contaminated.

Additionally, waterfalls and streams can be dangerous as well. Here are a few tips to help keep you injury free at your waterfall swim.

Waterfall and Stream Safety

  • At waterfalls, don’t go beyond guard rails.
  • Look upstream towards the mountains and check for rain-like conditions. Flash floods can occur in Hawaii without warning. I experienced a flash flood at Waimoku Falls and it was frightening. In the blink of an eye, the water flow tripled. We had to cross that stream to hike back to our car. A few other visitors were there at the same time. We all wondered if we’d be trapped until the water flow subsided. We didn’t know if conditions would get worse. We all looked after each other as we crossed the stream. I prayed and held on to large rocks standing high above the waterline for dear life as I crossed.  I thank God I survived!
  • Be aware that rocks below the water’s surface can be invisible and extremely slippery. Resist the urge to dive in.
  • Occasionally rocks are swept in streams and plunge from waterfalls and you don’t want to be under the flow when that happens.

The county of Maui produced a nice video with water safety tips. Not only is it educational, the scenery and music will put you in the mood for your Hawaii vacation. Plus, the advice applies to all islands, not just Maui.

Respect the ocean and stay safe on your Hawaii vacation!

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