Water safety: Shallow
water can be dangerous
by Kalamalama staff
At least 20 million people visit the shores of O‘ahu every
year, and beach and ocean recreation play a major role in
the lives of both visitors and residents as well.
On O‘ahu, however, ocean beaches can often be dangerous due
to weather-generated surf, currents, and wind. Over the past
10 years, statistics show three or more drownings and two
hundred or more accidents requiring ambulance assistance each
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According to lifeguards, many of these accidents are neck,
back, and spine injuries experienced by body surfers and body
boarders in the shore break. Amazingly, about 90 percent of
these injuries occur when the surf is three feet or less.
The common assumption, that small waves are too weak to be
harmful, is wrong. These waves can toss one “over the falls”
and headfirst into hard-packed sand, causing severe injury
and sometimes even death.
Surfing accidents also claim lives in Hawai‘i, even though
surfers generally are better trained than body boarders and
more knowledgeable of ocean dangers. The shore break is not
an issue for surfers because they generally ride waves in
deeper water further from shore. Nonetheless, there are also
great dangers, especially in large surf.
Surfers should be aware of location and direction of swells
and ocean currents. “The bigger and more frequent the waves,
the stronger the currents”—is a very important rule to remember.
Surfers should be exceptionally strong swimmers and capable
of taking care of themselves if they are carried seaward by
Every individual who enters the ocean in Hawai‘i or anywhere
else should be aware of the ocean’s unpredictability and power.
Things to do before you go into the water
Check with lifeguards about the specific
beach and dangers.
Pay attention to signs. These convey warnings
of risks and how to avoid them.
Do not enter closed beaches during high
Pay attention to weather news bulletins
and warnings of hazards.
Always swim with a partner.
When in doubt, don’t go out.
Don’t exhaust yourself.
Never turn your back on the surf.
Go with someone who knows CPR.
Don’t fight a current. Swim with it and
diagonally across it until it releases you.
Keep this handy and review it with your
friends before you go to the beach.
Water safety rules
Hawai‘i means the beach and fun in the
sun. But Hawai‘i’s oceans can be dangerous and turn
fun into tragedy. Use care and caution for all water
activities, including swimming pools, and always read
and obey safety signs. They could save your life!
- Never go swimming alone, even if you are an exceptional
swimmer. Never go to the beach alone.
- Be aware of high surf warnings, strong currents.
- Large waves can sweep over you and sweep you off
the beach and into the surf. Watch for breaking waves.
Avoid wet, rocky areas. Never turn your back to the
- Most beaches post signs about the conditions of
the ocean. Read and obey them. Strong currents may
not be noticeable on the surface but can be dangerous
- Know the various beaches on the islands and the
prevailing conditions at each. Select beaches with
conditions that match your skills and comfort level.
- Swimming pools are deceptively designed, shallow
at one end and dropping, sometimes rapidly, toward
the deeper end. Never go into a pool alone, unless
you are a strong swimmer.
- The sun’s ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer.
Whenver you swim, use protective sun screen, preferably
SPF 15 or above. Some skin experts advise you to use
sun screen at all times.
If you would like to learn how to swim, call the following
places for more information: YMCA (Young Men’s Christian
Association) 536-3556, or YWCA (Young Women’s Christian
Association) 538-7061. Learn how to swim, it might save