Waikiki Beach, Oahu
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If you’re planning to go swimming, snorkeling, or doing any activity in the ocean, there are many things you can do before going to the beach to help reduce your risk of injury.

Know your body’s limits

Your age, health condition, fitness level and swimming ability contribute to how safe being in the ocean is for you. See the checklist to better understand your risk level.

Learn how to swim

Knowing how to swim before you go to the beach is essential. Having general swimming knowledge is the best defense against drowning and reduces your risk of panicking in the water during an emergency.

Be familiar with common ocean hazards

Hawaii’s unique position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean makes beaches here more dangerous than those on continental shorelines. Learn about strong currents and dangerous shorebreak that you may encounter at the beach in Hawaii.

Learn about Hawaii’s surf seasons

Visiting the same beach at different times of year can lead to very different experiences. Learn how seasons affect Hawaii shorelines.

Plan to go with a buddy

Like most activities, going to the beach with another person is a more enjoyable, and much safer experience. In the event of an emergency, your partner could get help and save your life. You should also tell at least one other person what beach you are going to and when you will be back.

Schedule your visit to the beach during daylight hours

Mornings usually provide the best conditions for ocean activities. Bright sunlight and calmer winds provide better visibility. Wind activity often picks up in the late morning or afternoon, which can make paddling back to shore more difficult. Marine life is also active in the morning, providing more opportunities for snorkelers to see the fish below.

If You Plan on Going Snorkeling:

Standard gear for snorkeling includes a snorkel tube, face mask and fins.

If you intend to go snorkeling in Hawaii, you should be an experienced ocean swimmer familiar with the risks and dangers associated with high surf, strong currents, and waves breaking in shallow water.

Take the time before you go to familiarize yourself with the equipment you will be using. Traditional snorkeling gear consists of a snorkel tube, face mask and fins. You should learn how to clear your snorkel tube if it becomes filled with water. Various snorkel types have different ways to clear the tube.

Consider going on a snorkel tour or taking a snorkeling course from a certified instructor. You can also rent equipment from a reputable, licensed company, and ask for a demonstration on how to use the equipment. You should also think about using a floatation device appropriate for snorkeling, such as a floating vest or belt, to help you stay afloat.

A note about full-face snorkel masks:

Example of a full-face snorkel mask
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Full-face snorkel masks are designed to cover your entire face, letting you breathe out of your nose and mouth. These types of masks are gaining in popularity, but there may be risks associated with their use. Like traditional snorkeling equipment, full-face masks can create dangerous carbon dioxide buildup. The tighter fit of full-face masks can make them harder to remove during an emergency.

When using a full-face snorkel mask, it is advised to breathe only through your nose. If you breathe through your mouth as you would with traditional snorkeling gear, there is a tendency to hyperventilate. In addition, diving more than 2-3 feet below the surface while using a full-face mask may not be possible and may become uncomfortable due to increasing pressure from the large airspace inside the mask.

If you are renting equipment, rent only from a licensed vendor, and talk to them about using this equipment properly.

If you plan on participating in other activities:

Find a reputable vendor or instructor for ocean activities like stand-up paddle boarding.

For surfing, bodyboarding, bodysurfing or stand-up paddle boarding, find a reputable, licensed vendor ahead of time that can provide equipment, or a certified instructor that can give you lessons. They can also help recommend good beaches to take part in a particular activity.


More Ocean Safety

Know Your Limits Checklist

List of Lifeguarded Beaches

Ocean Hazards: Strong Currents

Ocean Hazards: Dangerous Shorebreak

Beach Warning Signs

Safety In the Ocean

Snorkeling Safety

Beach Safety for Families

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Honolulu Ocean Safety Division
Kauai County Ocean Safety