Safety on the Beach & in the Water

By Hawaii.com Team

Morning at Lanikai Beach, Kaohao, Kailua, Oahu. Photo: Hawaii.com member Greg L.


Hawaii is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world: turquoise waters, silky sand, and never a day too cold to swim. You’re sure to have plenty of fun, but to ensure a thoroughly safe, enjoyable visit to our stunning shores, it’s important to take appropriate precautions.

In particular, beachgoers should be prepared to handle:

  • the intense tropical sun
  • dangerous ocean conditions
  • otentially harmful ocean animals

BEATING THE HEAT
As many an unfortunate sun-worshipper has discovered, the sun is intense here in the tropics. Without proper protection it’s painfully easy to get a second-degree burn after only an hour in the sun, primarily between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (The sun is directly overhead for most of the day in Hawaii.)

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be less likely to get scorched:

  • Use at least SPF 15 sunscreen (preferably 30, especially on kids), and make sure it’s waterproof.
  • If you swim, reapply sunscreen each time you dry off.
  • Even waterproof sunscreen should be reapplied every 1 1/2 hours on kids and every 2 hours on adults.
  • Don’t forget to cover your ears and scalp, either with sunscreen or a hat.
  • Don’t be fooled by a cloudy day. The reflective glare from the sand and water can deliver a nasty burn.
  • To get a good tan, pace yourself: your first day out, expose your skin for no more than an hour; on subsequent days, add a half hour.
  • If you do end up with a sunburn, stay out of the sun until the burn has faded and apply aloe gel with lidocaine to help numb the pain.

** Water is the key! Drink plenty of water every day. Hawaii’s high humidity will make you sweat, increasing your risk of dehydration. Do not make the mistake of foregoing water for soda, coffee or tea. The caffeine in these beverages will dehydrate you even more. Also, always carry a water bottle with you to the beach.

If venturing out with children:

  • Consider leaving your infant (six months or younger) with a daycare provider if you plan to be at the beach for more than an hour during peak exposure times. It is difficult to keep very young children from getting sunburned.
  • If you do bring an infant to the beach for a brief stay, take care to cover the child with lightweight, breathable clothing (including a hat). Sunscreen is not recommended for children under six months old.
  • If you opt to protect your infant from the sun with a beach umbrella or covered safety seat, clothe the baby in a diaper only. Anything heavier may overheat and dehydrate the child.
  • For children older than 1, take your cue from kids who live in Hawaii and spend a lot of time at the beach: swim shirts are a must! These nylon/spandex shirts and bodysuits are the best way to protect sensitive skin.
  • Older kids also run the risk of dehydration. Make sure they drink LOTS of water or non-caffeinated juice throughout the day. Avoid soda.
  • Consider applying a complete sunblock, such as zinc, to a child’s nose, under the eyes, on the back of the neck, and on the tops of the ears. (This is in addition to the waterproof SPF 30 sunscreen they should already be wearing.)

ENJOY YOUR SWIM
Certain ocean conditions can make Hawaii’s beaches hazardous for swimming namely high surf, dangerous shorebreaks and strong currents. These conditions vary depending on season and location, but some spots are consistently hazardous. No matter which beach you choose, ALWAYS obey posted ocean safety signs. It’s extremely important to heed these warnings; even experienced local swimmers and surfers have been injured or killed in Hawaii’s waters.

While Hawaii has one of the nation’s best lifeguard systems, some remote beaches do not have lifeguard towers. It is not recommended to swim at a beach that has no lifeguard tower. Always know where the nearest lifeguard station is, and heed all posted warnings. During periods of high surf, never venture or allow your children to climb onto harmless-looking shoreline rocks or get near the shorebreak. In a split second, a rogue wave can wash you into the ocean.

As we say in Hawaii, never turn your back on the ocean! Standing in the water facing the shore is the easiest way to get knocked down and pulled under. Especially in shallow water, face toward the ocean and keep a keen eye out for large waves. If you do encounter a large wave, dive under the wave as it moves over you. Do not try to “jump” or swim over it.

OCEAN ANIMALS
If you’ve ever been snorkeling or SCUBA diving, you know there’s an entire world under the waves to explore. In Hawaii this ecosystem includes some organisms that can be hazardous to humans, including sharks and several types of jellyfish. Don’t hesitate to ask a lifeguard for medical assistance if you’re bitten, stung or otherwise injured at the beach; allergic reactions and/or severe bleeding can be life-threatening if not treated.

About sharks: In Hawaii, shark attacks are rare but do occasionally occur. Exercise common sense: Avoid swimming offshore during dusk, dawn and overnight hours, when sharks are most active. While most shark species will leave you alone and Great Whites are rarely sighted in Hawaii tiger sharks can be aggressive.

Several times a year, jellyfish (particularly the venomous Portuguese man-of-war and box jellyfish) infest southern and eastern waters of most Hawaiian Islands. Always heed ocean safety signs that caution against swimming when jellyfish have been sighted.

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