Hawaii Beach Safety


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1. Minimize your risk.

If you are not familiar with the shoreline, do not visit unguarded beaches. Dangerous waves and currents do not happen randomly and most human involvement is a matter of choice, not chance. Many ocean-related accidents are caused by:

  • A lack of understanding that the shoreline can be dangerous;
  • A lack of caution

2. Learn the conditions.

Always talk to a lifeguard to determine the safety level of the ocean and shoreline. Find out about surf and wind conditions for the whole day. Find out about:

  • Strong currents and waves that surge up beaches
  • High surf
  • Waves that break directly on the shore (shore break) ,
  • Hidden rocks
  • Dangerous shore areas

3. Understand wave and current behavior.

Waves arrive in groups separated by lulls. Watch the ocean for several minutes before entering the water. A calm sea may change in an instant when a group of waves arrives. Don't be fooled by the variability of the waves!

Waves make currents that can be dangerous. Rip currents in the surf zone can carry you out to sea. A wave rushing up a beach (wave surge) can knock you down and drag you into the ocean. Large waves on rocky shores can knock you into the ocean.Check to see if the rocks or sand you are walking on are dry; avoid wet areas. Remember that beach hazard ratings are only general guidelines. Distinctions between beach areas, ocean bottom, and the angle of incoming waves can cause large variations in safety. No matter what the beach hazard is, there are safe beach areas in Hawaii, learn about them.

4. Hazard Matrix

To view the rules that govern beach hazard flag assignment visit the hazard matrix for each island.

5. Rip Current Safety. [This information is taken from National Weather Service website.]

Why Rip Currents Form

As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore.

Rip Formation

Diagram courtesy NOAA's National Weather Service

Basic Rip Current Mechanics

  • Waves break on the sand bars before they break in the channel area.
  • Wave breaking causes an increase in water level over the bars relative to the channel level.
  • A pressure gradient is created due to the higher water level over the bars.
  • This pressure gradient drives a current alongshore (the feeder current).
  • The longshore currents converge and turn seaward, flowing through the low area or channel between the sand bars.

What to do if you find yourself in a rip current

The best thing to do is learn to spot rip currents and avoid them. However, if you do find yourself in a rip current, remember the following. It could save your life!

  • Don't fight the current - Conserve energy, keep calm, float, breathe, don’t panic, and wave for help
  • Swim out of the current, then to shore - Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.
  • If you can't escape, float or tread water - You can easily float in the current, there is no undertow.
  • If you need help, call or wave for assistance - If there is large surf or shoreline hazards, wave your hands for help and wait for assistance

How to Avoid and Survice Rip Currents

Diagram courtesy NOAA's National Weather Service

View photos of rip currents at the National Weather Service

Learn more about rip currents at the National Weather Service