In Hawaii, the beach and shoreline are natural gathering places. In the past, the ocean furnished the early Hawaiians with food, transportation, and recreation. In modern Hawaii, the beach is still a focal point for recreation and activity.

Virtually any activity involving the ocean can be deemed hazardous.

Every year, people in the persuit of fun, injure themselves. Part of the problem seems to be the thought that “I have to do this, I won’t be back here again” or “those waves don’t look that bad”. Famous last words. Anyone participating in activities involving the ocean have got to USE GOOD SENSE. This is a fundamental tenant for the ocean. The seas can be very unforgiving. If the waves are crashing and no one is in the water, then stay out. When visiting a shoreline, watch the water for several minutes before entering, you can learn a lot about the wave period and strength, the currents and wind effects. Then decide if you are up to going out in the water. Never turn your back on the ocean and know your own limitations.
What types of shoreline and water recreation and activities are available in Hawaii?
The list includes: Swimming, Surfing, Body Boarding, Body Surfing, Kayaking, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Fishing, Wind Surfing, Sailing, and Boating. What do you have to look out for in the ocean? Well, that list can be long.
Waves

Waves are probably the single most dangerous naturally destructive occurrence on any shoreline. Try to imagine the weight of a large wave as it crashes on the beach or rocks, the force can be measured in tons per square inch.
What makes a wave:
A ridge or swell moving through or along the surface of a large body of water.
A moving curve or succession of curves in or on a surface; an undulation.
A widespread, persistent meteorological condition, especially of temperature.
Physics. a. A disturbance traveling through a medium by which energy is transferred from one particle of the medium to another without causing any permanent displacement of the medium itself.
Most of the really serious injury accidents that occur in Hawaii’s beaches are wave related injuries. Broken bones, lacerated skin, and bruised muscles are just a few of the injuries. Spinal injuries are especially common with activities like surfing, body surfing, and body boarding.

Virtually all sports involving riding waves could be considered hazardous. Your (body) mass can pick up a lot of speed moving on a wave, coming to a sudden stop means a lot of energy being displaced someplace, hopefully not into a body, breaking bones or bruising muscles.

In Hawaii there are several methods employed to warn beach users about conditions. Pay attention to any beach warnings you might see, they are there to protect you.

A Red flag signifies that there is the possibility of severe wave action. A Yellow and Red flag signifies the possibility of severe Wind and Wave action. In extremely severe surf conditions the beaches will be closed.

If the red flags are out, consider staying out of the water, even if it looks like you can handle it. Sometimes it seems that the flags are always out, but they should only be on display if there are cautions out. Dangerous wave sets can last for several days at a time, and they don’t have to be really big to be able to do some damage. These warnings are based on current weather conditions, and wave information gathered by deep water buoys.

Hawaii employs several other “wave” warning signs to alert people to potential dangers. If you see any of these signs posted near the shoreline please pay attention to them. They are there to warn you of known hazards.

When enjoying a ‘day at the beach’, stay aware of the surf conditions. When in doubt, watch the ocean for at least 30 minutes before entering, periodic wave sets will most likely show themselves. If the waves seem big, or there isn’t anyone else out in the surf there might be a reason for it, so be cautious. Virtually all activities in the ocean are affected by waves. Don’t turn your back on them.

A final word about waves and Maui’s shoreline… Maui has a lot of shoreline area, not all of it can be patrolled and a lot of it is remote. Most of the beaches on Maui do not have lifeguards. Even if you are familiar with the area, exercise caution. Virtually no year goes by without some type of shoreline accident where a fisherman or visitor is caught by a large wave and swept out to sea. In the remote areas there is virtually no chance for rescue. If there are large waves, not only stay out of the water, but do not approach the shoreline too closely.

Rip Currents

Swimming and snorkeling in the ocean is not like swimming in a pool or lake. Rip currents frequently occur in Hawaii. They are strong, narrow surface current that flows rapidly away from the shore, returning the water carried landward by waves. Also called riptide, tiderip, this current of water is disturbed by an opposing current, esp. in tidal waters or by passage over an irregular bottom.

Swimming and snorkeling in the ocean is not like swimming in a pool or lake. The ocean develops currents that can be very strong, actually irresistible, at times. Combine this with the shape of the shoreline and the presence of waves, and things like ‘rip currents’ can develop. These are currents that can carry a bather from the relative safety of the inshore waters out into deeper water, where possibly stronger currents may exist. Rip currents (or any current for that matter) can not usually be clearly seen from the surface. So bathers sometimes walk into the surf unawares that a strong out-going current that can actually knock them off their feet and carry them out to sea, is right there.

How to survive a rip current…
Remain Calm, do not panic. Should you find yourself in a current that’s taking you away from where you entered the water. Remember that panicking will only tire you sooner.
Go with the flow. Do not attempt to fight the current. You will almost certainly loose that battle. Swim across or perpendicular to the current’s direction.

Wait until the current releases you. Rip currents eventually die out as they reach deeper water. At that point the current will release you.

Swim parallel to shore and then make your way in. If the waves prevent your return to shore continue treading water and remain calm.

Strong Currents

Strong Currents develop when there is the presence of wind. In Hawaii the Trade Winds are a nearly constant companion. The stronger the wind blows, the stronger a developing surface current might become. Generally these currents flow in the direction of the wind flow, but not always. The shape of the shoreline and the interaction of other deeper water currents can cause surprising changes in the overall current flow around the islands.
When planning any activity, check to see if strong winds are forecast and what direction they might be in. Observe any anchored boats to see the direction they are drifting toward. These observations will give you clues as to the direction and apparent strength of currents. Nothing can really tell you about currents other than actually getting in them, then it could be too late.
If you should find yourself in a strong current, fighting it directly may not be the sensible thing to do. Swimming at a angle to the current, toward the shoreline, may help you get out of it without exhausting you. Swim fins help a lot when swimming against a current. I don’t recommend entering the water without swim fins.

The best solution is to not get caught in one in the first place, the farther from shore, the more likely there can be invisible, strong, currents.

High Winds

Nearly every day, the Trade Winds blow in Hawaii. Generally coming from the north east, they keep the air moving and the temperature down. They also have another effect, they help drive surface currents in the ocean. If it is a really windy day, you can bet there is a fairly fast surface current developing. If you are enjoying a day of sailing or kayaking, be aware that the wind normally picks up in the late morning to early afternoon and can go from flat calm to very brisk gusts, all in a very short time. Before planning any beach or water activity, check out what the daily weather, and especially the apparent wind strength, before you go.
There have been incidents in past years of unskilled (and sometimes skilled) swimmers, wind surfers and kayakers being blown out into the deep channels. In most cases tragedy was avoided by the arrival of the Coast Guard or a passing tour or fishing boat. Not only be aware of the prevailing conditions, but also be aware of your own limitations. Don’t be afraid to change activity plans at the last minute.

Rocks & Coral

In Hawaii the rocks are formed from lava, much of which is extremely sharp after it has cooled. Even on old, eroded lava rock, cuts and abrasions can easily occure while walking on shore or in shallow water.
Coral is a living organism (at least live coral is) that builds it’s skeletons out of calcium obtained from sea water. Most of the corals in Hawaii are of the hard, sharp type, the type that preferrs fast moving water and currents. Getting a cut on coral or rocks can mean more than just an inconvienence. Strep and staff bacteria live comfortably in Hawaii, any cut or scrape should be cleaned and disinfected immediatly.

Hawaii doesn’t have fire coral, but all corals have various methods of protecting themselves. One method used by the stony corals is a mucous secretion, another is the employment of nematocysts. When coral cuts into skin tissue, the wound often has a mixture of bacteria, pieces of coral, stinging cells, digestive mucous, and other foreign bodies mixed in it.
Should a coral cut become infected a doctor should be consulted to determine if the problem is a allergic reaction, bacterial infection, or both. Often, coral cuts heal with a noticable raised scar, these often diminish over a long period of time.

Creatures

Some creatures can bite, cut or sting. Below we list the most important ones:

  • Sharks
  • Morey Eels
  • Surgeonfish
  • Scorpionfish
  • Sea Urchins
  • Crabs and Lobsters
  • Bristleworms
  • Starfish
  • Jelly Fish
  • Cone Shells