The ocean offers a wealth of beauty and fun. The beauty is deceptive. Enjoying the ocean with your eyes, and deciding to jump in are all together separate. If you follow some guidelines, you are more likely to return home with your family and friends, rather than in a casket. The best advice for any ocean-goer is to talk to the lifeguards and only go where there are lifeguards. That is why they are there, to guard your life. If you take the lifeguard out of the picture, you are putting yourself in a very dangerous situation.
Follow all safety signs posted by lifeguards. The most common signs are:
High Surf – Big waves = stay out of the water.
Waves Break on Ledge – Dangers for people walking on rocks or concrete pier. Strong waves can suddenly wash you away. If the rocks or concrete are wet, definitely stay off!
Dangerous Shore Break – This is when waves break directly on the shore – causing danger for people both in and out of the water.
Strong Current – as volumes of water break onto the shore, the water naturally finds ways to move back out towards the ocean, creating a very dangerous situation. When you are caught in a current, you usually know it right away. The feeling of being swept out to sea is quite scary and unnatural. But don’t panic or fight it – you will waste your energy and will be more likely to be taken under. Focus on your breathing, conserving energy and staying afloat. When you feel in control of your own body, calmly waive for help and slowly try to swim parallel to the shore, out of the current, and then try to swim back towards the shore.
Sharp Coral – Coral is very sharp, strong and unforgiving. Stay away from coral. If you experience coral-related injuries, see the lifeguards.
Sudden Drop-off – Holes, shelves and drop-off points create dangerous conditions for even the most experience waterman. Stay close to the shore and with groups.
Slippery Rocks – Shore rock is often naturally very slippery.
Man-o-War & Jellyfish – Lots of pain and sometimes serious reactions occur. Stay out of the water if you see signs. If you think you have come into contact with a Man-o-war or Jellyfish, see the lifeguards. Box jellyfish usually invade south and west shoreline waters approximately 9 to 10 days after a full moon, and can vary a couple days from that. Observe lunar calendars, look for lifeguard postings and stay out of the water if there are Box.
For complete signage information from City and County of Honolulu Lifeguards, visit this site: http://www1.honolulu.gov/esd/oceansafety/beachsigns.htm.
Talking to the lifeguards and following the signs doesn’t mean you are ready for the ocean. Personal readiness and awareness are your other important key companions.
Understand and remember what the acronym ‘SOAK’ means.
Study the area – Stand on the beach or high point and look all around you. Know where you are entering the ocean, and have two or three exit points planned. As conditions and tides change, where you entered may no longer be safe to exit.
Observe ocean conditions for at least 30 minutes – this is a good time to stretch and relax.
Ask questions – Ask the lifeguards and other local swimmers & surfers about conditions.
Know your limits – Don’t put yourself and others in danger by going out in conditions past your abilities. Even the strongest athletes will lose to the ocean. Don’t think your strong athletic skills in other sports will carry over to help save you from drowning. If you can’t swim, don’t rely on a raft or other floating device to keep you alive, and don’t float past your own abilities to get back to shore. If you can’t swim its probably best to stay at the hotel pool, in the shallow end.
Other tips to keep you safe in the water.
– Drink plenty of water before any physical activity to avoid dehydration and cramping. Wear plenty of good sunscreen and use a rash guard or other clothing to protect from the sun. Check the complete weather forecast before entering the ocean.
– Don’t always trust the recommendations by other visitors. What was fun for one might not be suitable for another, especially with how ocean conditions can change so dramatically. Don’t trust just any person willing to hand you some ocean gear for some cash. Know where you are going, and ask if there are lifeguards.
– Never leave children unattended.
– If you see someone in need, do whatever it takes to raise the attention of the lifeguards and others before attempting a rescue. If you or anyone else is in danger, wave one or both arms high in the air. By trying to help others in danger, you are putting yourself at risk too. Its best to allow trained professionals attend to emergencies. If faced with an incident, use your best judgment.
– Other tips for surfers and swimmers – Experienced swimmers and surfers make riding big waves and maneuvering through the ocean look easy. Don’t be fooled. The board itself causes many injuries to both the person who owns the board, and other victims around. The use of nose guards, tail guards and soft fins is highly recommended. If you can, go with experienced person. Most surf spots are dangerous for beginners. Ask your instructor or the lifeguards about surfing conditions. Remember that ocean conditions can change very quickly potentially resulting in a very dangerous situation.
– Swim only where there are lifeguards. Don’t be fooled, just because there are lifeguards, it doesn’t mean it safe to go out.
– Do not make contact with the ocean floor. You never know what is down there (stingray, sea urchin, sharp coral, etc.). When falling or wiping out, keep your body parallel with the water upon contact. Never go in head-first.
– Cold water, although not as serious in Hawaii. Torso reflex can occur when submerged in cold water. This is when the body naturally wants to inhale. The submersion can result in lung inflation in order to increase metabolism.
– Be careful when interpreting weather advisories and high surf warnings. “High Surf Advisory” (15 ft. north shores, 12 ft. west shores, and 8 ft. south and east shores) is a condition dangerous to swimmers and beachgoers and “High Surf Warning” (25 ft. north shores, 20 ft. west shores, 15 ft. south and east shores) is a condition where threats to life and property are at risk. A wave with an eight-foot face is way too much for any beginner. And even a four-foot face is too much for most beginners (non-advisory level).
– Any wave over 2′ Hawaiian size is dangerous for beginners. Check the surf report and ask the lifeguards about surf conditions.
When in doubt, don’t go out. This is a motto to live by!!
Expand your knowledge and readiness by researching other sources.
Honolulu City & County Ocean Safety Division