Travel Tips: Hawaii Beach Safety


Let’s be honest. Most of us go to Hawaii to get in that warm ocean.

And though the clear-blue water surrounded by lush palms and ironwoods looks inviting, the Pacific Ocean can be very dangerous and unpredictable.

Get ready for the buzz-kill: Hawaii has one of the highest drowning rates in the United States. So it is important to take precautions when playing in the water.

Waves in Hawaii are powerful—so strong that in the past, ships couldn’t sail to the islands, especially on Kauai. On days when the sea is rough (in general the north shore is moodiest in the winter and the south shore is turbulent in summer), don’t go in the water.

Other concerns are rip currents and undertows. Even on calm days, they can be invisible. A rip current occurs when strong waves block beach water from draining back into the sea. The water gathers, searching for a weak spot to travel back out to the ocean, creating a narrow passage. When there is no weak spot, the water pushes back to sea under the waves, which is called an undertow. Trying to swim against a rip is impossible; instead save your strength and remain calm. Go with the flow until it releases you (and it will). Then swim parallel to the shore until you don’t feel the power of the current.

Other safety tips that you should follow:

  • Always swim where a lifeguard is present.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean.
  • Remember waves come in sets.
  • Always follow posted signs. When jellyfish and sharks are hanging around, lifeguards post signs and often close beaches.
  • Look for locals. In general if you don’t see locals swimming at a particular beach, there is usually a reason: it might be too dangerous.
  • Stay out of murky water or mouths of rivers.
  • If you are tired, don’t swim.
  • Beaches change conditions. One day I was swimming at Ke‘e Beach and it was calm and then the next day, the rips were so strong, no one could swim there.
  • For safety videos visit
  • If the seas aren’t calm, stay out of the water. The motto is: If in doubt, don’t go out!

Warnings aside, my favorite Hawaiian memories typically feature that wild and inviting Pacific Ocean. Don’t be afraid to get wet, just use caution.

For more on Hawaii, grab a copy of my Backroads and Byways of Hawaii.


4 responses to “Travel Tips: Hawaii Beach Safety

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