Christine Hitt
Christine Hitt

Visiting the Nakalele Point blowhole on Maui, I witnessed people playing in the spray as water blasted forcefully into the air a good 50 feet or so. As fun as it may look, it's actually very dangerous. Wet rocks are slippery. The water's force can lift a person into the air and drop them back onto the rocks or right into the blowhole, where people have unfortunately died. As the sign at the top of the trail says, "It's not a waterpark."

Ocean safety isn't always top of mind for visitors who've traveled thousands of miles to Hawaii, but it's important to encourage them to understand that no beach or coastline is risk-free. It's important for visitors to respect warning messages and to know their limits.

Following simple rules, such as swimming at a lifeguarded beach, knowing your personal health limits and obeying posted signs goes a long way in ensuring you have a safe trip to the beach.

Hawaii Beach Safety is a great online resource for real-time info on current ocean conditions and whether there are any active alerts for Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. It also provides extensive info about each beach. For instance, for Makena State Park on Maui, it lists lifeguard hours and where they're located, and gives some background on the two beaches at the park, Big Beach and Little Beach. When I look recently, it was rated as "high hazard," meaning people are generally encouraged to stay out of the water.

Hawaii visitors are 10 times more likely to drown than residents, according to data from the Hawaii Department of Health. Most drownings occurred during snorkeling, followed by swimming. From 2009 to 2017, there have also been 362 spinal cord injuries, and Makena Beach is one of the top destinations where these occur, followed by Hapuna Beach on the Big Island. Most of these injuries result from being tossed by a wave.

Here are quick tips to keep in mind when planning time near the ocean in Hawaii. For more information, visit Hawaii Ocean Safety's website.

1) Never turn your back to the ocean, as waves are unpredictable.
2) If in doubt, don't go out.
3) Go to lifeguarded beaches and check conditions before you go.
4) If the rocks or sand you're standing on are wet, it means a wave has been there and it's likely to happen again.
5) Know and follow your own personal limits.
6) If you're stuck in a rip current, be calm and don't fight it. When you can, swim at an angle away from the current.
7) Swim with a buddy.
8) Read and obey posted signs.

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