Hawaii Travel Safety Tips > Hawaii Ocean Safety

As a tropical archipelago, Hawaii is adorned with outstanding beaches. With over 112mi (180km) of coastline on Oahu, ocean activities are among the most popular things to do. There’s no denying the beauty of a sandy shore, but what lies beneath the water surface is entirely different. The ocean is unpredictable, and with constantly changing conditions, it can be dangerous. Hawaii locals heed the following ocean safety advice and out-of-towners should, too.

Stay Safe at Oahu Beaches

  • KNOW THE OCEAN CONDITIONS. Always check the daily weather and surf reports, check-in with the lifeguard, and utilize the Hawaii Beach Safety site that calculates the real-time hazard level at 30+ Oahu beaches.
  • PICK A LIFEGUARDED BEACH. Visit beaches where lifeguards are on-duty and chat to them about any potential danger before entering the sea. Visit HI Ocean Safety for a list of Oahu’s lifeguard-protected beaches with schedules.
  • AVOID DRUGS & ALCOHOL BEFORE & DURING WATER PURSUITS. Never go into the ocean under the influence of drugs or alcohol, these substances can impair your judgment and greatly increase your risk of drowning.
  • READ & OBEY ALL SIGNAGE. Pay attention to warning signs on Oahu beaches, they take precedence over the information given in guidebooks or websites. Familiarize yourself with common signage at HI Ocean Safety.
  • BEWARE OF BOX JELLYFISH. Stay out of the water when box jellyfish are floating about, warning signs are usually posted. They tend to appear 8-10 days after the full moon, refer to the Waikiki Aquarium Box Jellyfish Calendar.
  • DON’T CLIMB ON WET ROCKS. Wet rocks near a shoreline can indicate current high wave activity. Avoid these slippery and dangerous areas at all costs, practice caution, and retreat to dry land.
  • AVOID DAREDEVIL ACTIVITIES. Never dive into the ocean off waterfalls, cliffs, rocks, etc. Serious injury or death is a possibility, especially in shallow or murky water. Stay away from blowholes, they’re extremely hazardous.
  • RENT FROM LICENSED OPERATORS. Ocean equipment including snorkel sets are best hired from certified businesses. Seek out expert instruction prior to usage or better yet book a private lesson or guided water activities.
  • KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Don’t push beyond your personal health and fitness abilities in the water. Make sure you know how to swim before going snorkeling. HI Ocean Safety offers great advice about knowing your limits.
  • BUDDY-UP AT THE BEACH. Never swim, snorkel, or surf alone, always take a playmate and look out for each other’s safety in the ocean. Never leave kids unattended or in charge of other children near and in the water.
  • KEEP YOUR EYES AT SEA. Don’t turn your back on the ocean. Watch for unexpected waves, heights can increase quickly. If they do, dive underneath the waves ending up behind them and then swim to shore between sets.
  • ADVICE FOR RIPS. Sometimes strong currents can overpower beachgoers. If caught in a rip, remain calm and go with the flow rather than fight the current. Once released, swim at an angle away from the current towards the shore.

Practice Sun Safety in Hawaii

  • GUARD AGAINST SUN DAMAGE. Protect yourself from ultraviolet rays, even on cloudy days. Apply SPF30+ reef-safe sunscreen and re-apply after swimming. Hats, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts provide extra-safety.
  • USE REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN. Hawaii was the first U.S state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral. Only use reef-safe sunscreen, products without the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Protect Hawaii’s Oceans & Reefs

More tourists are striving to visit in a way that reduces the negative impacts travel has on the local environment. One way to practice responsible tourism in Hawaii is by adhering to the following recommendations.

  • DO NOT WALK OR STAND ON CORAL. Always search for a sandy or coral-free place to stand in the ocean or consider using a flotation device to avoid touching the seafloor.
  • BOOK ECO-FRIENDLY TOURS. Seek out Hawaii businesses that take steps to minimize their environmental footprint. For a list of certified sustainable tour operators visit the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii.
  • DISPOSE OF TRASH PROPERLY. Always place trash in bins and/or recycle, this ensures it will not be blown or washed into waterways and the ocean. Never leave rubbish at the beach including cigarette butts in the sand.
  • NO TOUCHING OR FEEDING REEF LIFE. Do not touch, pick-up, or hold coral or other marine life. Do not feed sea creatures, they have their own unique diets.
  • BE CAREFUL WITH WATER EQUIPMENT. Thoroughly clean and sanitize water equipment including dive gear between locations. Don’t drag kayaks or surfboards over the reef, it can damage coral and destroy their ecosystem.

Respect Hawaii’s Marine Life

Hawaii waters are rich in marine life from Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu), spinner dolphins (naia) and humpback whales (kohola) to native fish (i’a), monk seals (ilio holo i ka uaua) and manta rays (hahalua). Please abide by these rules.

  • DO NOT TOUCH MARINE LIFE. Never attempt to touch or ride any kind of marine life. Use binoculars and zoom lenses to view marine life from a respectful distance and please limit your observation time.
  • DO NOT FEED THE MARINE LIFE. Never feed the marine life, they have their own diets. Always put trash in the correct place to keep the ocean clean and the sea animals safe.
  • ABIDE BY BOAT ETIQUETTE. When boating, do not approach marine life. If they approach the boat put the engine in neutral and allow the marine life to pass. Never trap or encircle marine life between boats and the shoreline.
  • KEEP YOUR DISTANCE FROM WHALES. By law, remain at least 300ft (90m) away from Humpback whales in Hawaii waters. For other marine mammals remain at least 150ft (45m) away.
  • RESPECT HAWAIIAN GREEN SEA TURTLES. When meeting a sea turtle on land or in the water, keep a distance of at least 6-10 feet (2-3m) away. Do not disturb sleeping or basking sea turtles.
  • DON’T SWIM WITH SPINNER DOLPHINS. Please leave wild spinner dolphins alone, do not attempt to swim with them. When choosing a dolphin tour book Dolphin SMART businesses, these companies demonstrate their support for dolphin conservation.

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Image Credit: Ryan Tishken