Most people think of Hawaii as a beautiful and tranquil place, and it can be, but the waters can be treacherous, especially in the winter months when big swells and rip currents abound. I was prompted to write this post after I learned about the recent drowning of a tourist snorkeling off the Big Island.
Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from the shore and look like a channel of churning, choppy water. Look for a noticeable difference in water color and a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward.
Drowning was the leading cause of fatal injuries among Hawaii Vacation goers in between 2005 and 2009. In Kauai, lifeguards documented 248 rescues last year and their No. 1 message to visitors is Please swim near a lifeguard.’ The United States Lifesaving Association has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million.
Lifeguards are skilled professionals and will advise you of surf conditions. In the absence of a lifeguard remember, “when in doubt, don’t go out.” If you should get caught a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly and never fight against the current. USLA says, “Think of the rip current like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, and you need to step to the side of. 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 find someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available have someone call 9-1-1 while you throw the victim a flotation device.
The aptly-named Kauai Beach Guardians — supported entirely on donations of time and money — has saved numerous lives by installing 100 rescue tubes around Kauai’s beaches. Soon, each station will be located with GPS and pinpointed on a map of Kauai. The stations will be numbered so central dispatch will know exactly where to send professional rescue personnel in response.