Considering beach safety before dashing across the hot sand and plunging into the surf may just save a life. Hawai'i is the drowning capital of the U.S. By following a few safety guidelines, you don't need to become another statistic.
This isn't said in an attempt to frighten you off. But consider that Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Shoreline surf and currents on many Hawaii beaches can be frighteningly powerful, even when the ocean appears calm. On a calm day along the west coast of the Big Island, the water can be glassy smooth. But things can change in a hurry. I nearly drowned in a rip current simply because I was ignorant. Don't underestimate the power of the ocean. Know before you go. If in doubt, enjoy the view from the shore.
Because Hawaii is close to the equator, the sun is intense. This is true at the beach and even more so high up on one of the volcanoes. For maximum protection, apply adequate sun protection 30 minutes before going outside and 30 minutes before swimming. Reapply after swimming. If you are hiking be sure to have plenty of water and take breaks to avoid overexertion and dehydration.
Waves arrive in groups, separated by lulls. Observe the ocean for several minutes before going in the water. Observe other people - are they swimming, or are they on surfboards?
Waves can make dangerous currents. Watch out for waves rushing up a beach or on rocky shores that can knock you down. Unwary visitors have been swept into the ocean when venturing too far out on the rocks.
Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water flowing away from shore. They can move at speeds up to eight feet per second, beginning at the shoreline and flowing swiftly out past the breaking waves. They are more likely to be dangerous when the surf is high, and can be very narrow or hundreds of yards wide.
Under normal conditions, water rolls rhythmically toward shore, forms waves, then breaks in the shallower water. Rip currents are formed as waves break over low spots on reefs or sand bars. As the waves break over these low spots, the water is funneled towards the shore. As the water builds up near shore the pressure creates a concentrated river of water that must move away from the beach to deeper water. The water forced away from shore is known as a rip current. Their strength and speed increases as wave size and speed increases.
Rip currents are not always easy to identify. Some key things to look for are:
For further information visit the NOAA website on rip currents and other beach safety.
Have fun and be safe!
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