A young man pes into Queen’s Bath on Kauai’s north shore.

Who is to blame when people are injured or die during a Hawaii Vacation?

Recently we posted an article I wrote called Falling for Kipu on Kauai, an area made poplar by guidebooks. Three days later, the Garden Island newspaper reported that a man drowned there, the fifth in as many years.

About the same time, Amanda C. Gregg of MidWeek Kauai profiled Sue Kanoho, the head of Kauai’s Visitors Bureau. Kanoho advocates legislation holding guidebook and travel publications liable for injury or fatality while taking illegal advice, such as trespassing on private property. The Hawaii “guidebook bill” died due to the publications saying it would violate their First Amendment rights.

Yahoo! News has joined the discussion with Audrey McAvoy’s article, “Popular Kauai swimming hole gets deadly reputation.” The article explores several perspectives regarding this controversial topic. An ER doctor sees injuries from Kipu Falls every few months, and rescue workers were sent there 10 times last year. John Blalock, deputy chief of the Kauai Fire Department, says the deaths and injuries are because people engage in high risk activities while on vacation. A sympathetic tour boat captain doesn’t believe the falls should be closed.

Then, there is the perspective of the property owner. “The pool and falls are on private property owned by Grove Farm,” writes McAvoy. “Closing it off would be an expensive undertaking for a small Kauai company that has only about a dozen employees. A fence could break and Grove Farm could be held responsible for not maintaining the barrier. If the company posts warning signs, it would be acknowledging the area is risky, exposing itself to liability.”

I have witnessed people engaging in high risk activity. Last November I hiked part of the Kalalau Trail, up to Hanakapai Beach. A “No Swimming” sign was posted at the entrance to the beach. It clearly explained that this was a dangerous area, and to reinforce the point, the sign had hash marks of how many people had died there. Out in the surf, a young man swam, his body gesture was one of joy, shadowed with defiance.

This month, someone died after being sucked into a blowhole off Maui. People get caught in Hawaii’s riptides and drown every year, despite the “When in doubt, don’t go out,” guideline. During the winter, when surf is high on Kauai`s north shore, people swim in Queen’s Bath where dangerous waves crash into this deep tide pool. There is a “No Swimming” sign with 28 hash marks posted.

What do you think? Should areas like Kipu Falls and Queen’s Bath be closed off? Should guide books and travel publications be held liable? Do you think people should be accountable for their own actions? What should the state be responsible for?.


  1. My very strong opinion is that people are and should be responsible for their own actions.  The tides change.  What is safe one minute can be body slamming you into the sand the next.  Ocean swimmers learn how to judge the conditions, and even then, strong swimmers drown sometimes.  This is not a reason to say people should not swim at places like Hanakapae IMO.  
    During the most recent eruption at Kilauea the park supt closed down that entire section of the park, so no one could see it.  How terribly disappointing.  When that is the response, there will always be those people who do whatever it takes to get in.  She felt safe enough to go in herself, and invite her pals.  
    To answer your questions, people should be free to make their own choices.  No one thinks autos should be banned, and yet look at all the deaths by auto.  The state should keep everything open so visitors can experience the rawness of nature unfolding.  That is why people come here.  At least in part, for many
    Aloha, and thanks for the article and questions.

  2. I grew up on Oahu. Went snorkling, swimming, body surfing by myself. Got into some close calls and learned quickly to respect what can be beautiful. There are many places throughout the US that are dangerous to explore. Warning signs can be posted, you can try to educate the public, but tragic accidents will still happen from…stupidity. I don't like guide books making local known spots popular. These places are usually so far from help or a more populated tourist area. When a person makes a decision to leap off a cliff, I think the blame is on that person alone. Shut down nothing. Close no location. Let God sort them out.

  3. Aloha Marta! Thanks for the great post and I agree, that was very well stated Gail. Unfortunately in this litigious day and age there seems to no longer be such a thing as personal responsibility. People always want someone else to blame when things go wrong due to their own negligence and/or stupidity. We can't legislate intelligence and these people who get hurt and then sue, ruin it for the rest of us.

  4. This is also true Tara. It's a complex issue. When I lived in Colorado, we had the same concerns with skiers, hikers and river runners. I guess it's universal, but is there a way lives can be saved? A friend suggested PSA announcements on flights to the islands. That seems like a great idea! 

  5. I think people should be able to make decisions themselves when it comes to nature and what they do out there. Growing up in Colorado, we did some pretty crazy things on our bikes, in the rivers, and in the mountains and yes, I remember the accidents. We had a freedom that required us to look out for each other, to know first aid, keep safety stuff in our cars and keep track of each other in bad weather, starting at a fairly young age. When people are not allowed to do something like jump off a cliff or swim where they shouldn't, they lose the capacity to make decisions for themselves at a very personal level. It's a good question, Marta and I do think there's a lot to be said for PSA's and blogs to get the information out there.

  6. I have a livid friend and rescue worker on my Facebook page. He rescues people from Queen's Bath and Kipu Falls frequently:
    RE: Kipu falls and Queens Bath. I have been a Paramedic on the North Shore for over 20 years. I do firmly believe that these 2 areas should be CLOSED. The guidebooks created a deadly situation under the guise of "Its my forst amenment right to publish" That is a weak and shameful excuse. These places kill people ON A REGULAR basis. " people swim in Queen’s Bath where dangerous waves crash into this deep tide pool. There is a “No Swimming” sign with 28 hash marks posted."
    Well guess what, its ALL YEAR long that this occurs. Not just during winter. Now if I published a manifesto on how to kill people by making homemade bombs…(My 1st amendment right) do you think I might be shut down? But wait, its my 1st amendment right…righht?

    ‎28 HASH MARKS JUST FOR qUEENS bATH ALONE 28 folks dead or paralyzed. But the book profits keep on rolling in.
    How about the family that witnessed a 2 mothers swept out and killed. Right in front of their husbands and children. How do you think they will remember their "cherished trip to Kauai"?
    When people come to Hawaii, they tend to let their guard down believing it is a safe and wonderful place to visit and they tend to do things they might not do ast home. Add to this bravado, encouragment by an Author who real motivation is book profits.
    OK so it is a sore subject for ALL of us rescuers. My vote is obvious.

    There is enough beauty on this island to go around for everyone and places that do not have the dangerous conditions as these the 2 locations in question. I also believe the writers SHOULD be held accountable. Again, advocating to break the law(trespassing) was not the idea of our founding fathers and the 1st amenment.

  7. Yes, please respect signs posted, as you must also respect the aina (land)  and ke kai (the ocean)!
    If a sign says 'no swimming' and you decide to indulge anyway, it is absolutely at your own risk and consequences are yours and yours alone.  When dealing with Hawaii's ocean currents our Ohana (family)have our own rules that we enstill with our keiki and adults alike.  Before you go swimming, you must hold onto a boulder along the shoreline, when the waves break, you must still be holding onto the boulder to ensure you can handle the currents.  If  waves were too strong which caused you to let go of the boulder, you are not allowed to swim, as obviously currents are too strong for you for that day.  Better to be safe then sorry!

  8. You seem to overlook the simple fact that people do stupid things all the time!  Most of the time, we get away with it…walk away, no harm, no foul.  Unfortunately, for many people a sign that says "No trespassing" or "Kapu" is an invitation BECAUSE it is forbidden.  People go around, under, or over such signs all the time.  (Rules were made to be broken.  Ever heard that one?) 
    I have witnessed tourists go beyond the safety barriers at Halemaumau Crater and stand on what is obviously a cracked section waiting to fall in because they wanted a "better view"!   If you've been there, you understand that these barriers and signs are NOT something you might miss.  And, every once in a while, it does break off and people do fall in.  That doesn't mean we should close the park for everyone else.  (That's like one loss for each 2 Million plus visitors…do we deprive the 2 Million because one of them might be an idiot?)
    These are people who purposely ignore safety warnings.  By "closing" places, you simply make it a "must do" for many of those who end up being among the statistics.  PSA announcements will warn many, but simply bring places to the attention of those types of people who may not have known about them…until it was conveniently pointed out via the PSA!
    So, should you hold those who issue PSA's accountable for pointing these places and dangers out?  While I agree that some guidebooks go too far and downplay the risks (and have some that even encouraged people to ignore signs and fences), I also think it becomes difficult to draw the line to who's responsible for getting people to go to these places.  As someone pointed out earlier, its a pity that common sense seems to have died somewhere in the last 40-50 years. 

    There's an old adage that says people see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear…and ignore the rest.  Ultimately, we must be held responsible for our own decisions.  Can't you hear your mother, "Its always fun until someone gets hurt!"   Mom always knows best.

  9. I've been swimming in Queen's Bath on a lovely sunny day in May. It looked just like the photo above, in fact. Had it looked any different, you couldn't have paid me to get in. I think you put up the signs and let people make their own decisions. 

  10. Just want to note that MidWeek didn't only profile Sue Kanoho, a longtime advocate for victim safety, but in my column I supported the guidebook bill despite my love for the First Amendment and lauded Rep Jimmy Tokioka and Ron Kochi for spearheading the effort. When I covered cops and courts at TGI it was weekly that visitors drowned on Kauai, and famous last words often included a certain guidebook out there and a false sense of athletic prowess on the part of the victim. When I helped author Lonely Planet Kauai we decided to keep Kipu Falls out of the book's content altogether… I believed it's less about liability than shared responsibility. We all should be responsible and educating visitors is indeed part of it, but so is educating ourselves when reporting on issues such as these or jumping on the bandwagon slamming tourists. Unless you're born and raised here, taking the attitude that the last plane to land should have been the one you were on is short sighted in my humble opinion.
    There's a history behind every repeated tragedy.

  11. Re:  Amanda
    I admit to not being aware of the bill you are referring to, nor the wording of said bill, but your comment begs the question, where do you draw this arbitrary line between "informing" and "being held liable" for the actions of the individual.  For example, if I were to point out that the Pali lookout offers a great view of windward Oahu, should I be held accountable if some idiot decides it would be a great place to jump from?  Or, they want a better view of just how steep the cliffs is, so go beyond the wall and fall?  Are you exempt from liability if you simply add the words, "be careful"?   
    I do think some lines can be clearly drawn.  For example, any guidebook that suggests you "ignore" the warning signs or points out ways to go around them should be held accountable for their actions.  But, there are many more "gray areas" than clear cut bad advice.   I agree completely with your comment that it is more about responsibility than liability.  However, I also believe that while you were addressing guidebook publishers, it should apply equally to those who use the guidebooks.  Don't you?
    As I commented in an earlier post, there are those individuals who will consider it a challenge once they become aware that someplace or something might be dangerous.  On the other hand, should we not mention any attractions or sites for people to visit (locals and tourists alike) just because it may have an element of danger.  Exactly what would be left?
    I have a website and blog that informs people of things to do and places to visit while in Hawaii, so while I SHOULD BE aware of this legislature you mention I am not.  I would appreciate it very much if you would PM me with where I might view information about it.  I will also say that I try to point out potential hazards, down to "wear a hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and bring water" or "use your best judgement" when it comes to water conditions being too rough.
    Would that be too "vague"?  Would I be in trouble for hoping my readers have good judgement?  Should I not mention an otherwise beautiful beach to visit for fear someone won't show good judgement?  Should guidebook writers/publishers limit their coverage to Waikiki, Ala Moana Beach and Hanauma Bay?   Maybe we'd be safe if all that is suggested are paid attractions so that the attraction can assume all liability.   Is the state going to publish a "safe list" or a "do not mention" list?  Hmmmm…

  12. Absolutely not! People should use common sense, and pay attention to the warnings. If they don’t, it’s their own fault. My feeling is more accidents are going to occur if it harder to get to these areas, because if they want to go, they will find a way! I have been to Kipu and Queen’s Bath, both beautiful, but deadly. It all comes down to using your head, and respecting the land.

  13. I think people need to take responibility for their own actions. If you read the signs and they say “DANGER”, then you go in the water anyway, then it is your fault when you get hurt. I love HI. & I do read the signs.

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