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Hawaii Beaches

Hawaii has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with many places to swim, snorkel, sunbathe, or just rest in the shade and enjoy the scenery.  All of Hawaii's beaches are free and open to the public, even those in front of the expensive hotels.  Drinking alcoholic beverages on Hawaii's beaches is not allowed.  Do not leave valuables in your rental car or unattended on the beach.

Lovely Poipu Beach Park on Kauai
The stunning hues of the water varying from aqua to royal blue, the white sand or lava rock beaches, and the shady palm trees can lull you into complacency.  Always keep an eye on young children because they can be injured by an unexpected wave or drown quickly, even when they are very near you.  Always swim with a partner for safety's sake.  Whatever you do near the water, be aware of the additional warnings listed below.

Check Local Conditions   Don't swim at any beach that is not also a public park.  Usually restrooms and dressing rooms are a sure clue.  Check posted signs and with lifeguards to be safe because local conditions can make any beach unsafe for swimming.  If you see no one in the water, there may be a very good reason for it.  The beaches on Oahu's North Shore are often calm and safe in the summer, but seasonal surf can reach 10-15 feet and is potentially dangerous.  Winter waves on Oahu's North Shore crest at 30 feet or more and are dangerous by their sheer size. 

Dangerous Water Conditions    The best advice is to play it safe and not take chances.  If in doubt, don't go out.  However, here are some situations you should know about in case you are taken by surprise.

Shorebreaks   Shorebreaks occur when the waves break directly on the shore. Serious neck and spinal injuries can occur even when the surf is small.

Rip Currents normally flow parallel to the beach.  If caught in one of them swim along with it until its force diminishes.   Never exhaust yourself trying to swim against it.  Occasionally rip currents flow straight out to sea through channels in a reef.  These are more dangerous and if you are caught in one of them, swim to the side of it to get out.

Undertows are brief, lasting only until a wave has passed.  If pulled down in an undertow, remain calm and come up for air on the other side of the wave.

Large Waves  Storms at sea, sometimes thousands of miles from the Hawaiian Islands, can generate very large waves which can pose a danger.  While swimming, don't turn your back on waves or try to jump over or through them.  It is safest to take a deep breath and dive under the wave.  Even if you are just watching large surf, it is never safe to go out to the edge of rocks where surf is breaking.  Extremely large waves can occur suddenly, wash over the rocks without warning and sweep you away.

Sunburn    A word of caution that especially applies to beach-goers is to be aware that Hawaii's atmosphere  is clearer than many other places so almost 75 percent of the solar radiation penetrates on a clear day.  Many visitors spoil their vacation by spending too much time in the sun without using proper sunscreen.  If you are in the ocean the rays are reflected off the water and intensify its power.

Injuries in the Water
With any of the injuries listed below, see a doctor if you have any doubt at all about them and especially if they appear to be infected.

Cuts  The most common cause of cuts and scrapes in the ocean is coral.  Most of Hawaii's beaches have sharp coral reefs close to the shoreline.  It isn't uncommon to be snorkeling in shallow water and be washed into nearby coral by wave action.  You can get bacterial infection from them so remove any embedded sand or coral, wash thoroughly with clean water, and carefully bandage it.  If the cut is of any size or continues to bleed, you should see a doctor.

Jellyfish  These seem to be near the surface more in the morning then later in the day.  The pain is a burning sensation that can last from ten minutes to many hours depending on how much contact you had and your reaction to it.  Vinegar can be used to stop the burning but do not rub it.  Pick off any tentacles you can see and use ice to relieve the pain.  

Portuguese Man-of-War  These jellyfish are bluish-purple and look like floating bubbles with long tentacles hanging down.  Watch for them while snorkeling and get out of the water because they tend to be found in clusters.  If you are stung, remove any visible tentacles (without getting stung on your hand), rinse off with water, and use ice to help control the pain and swelling.  The effect of these stings rarely last more than an hour.

Sea Urchins  Don't walk in water where you can't clearly see the bottom or you may encounter the spines of a sea urchin.  Not even sand shoes or booties will always protect your feet.  Pull out any protruding spines and your body will normally absorb the embedded spines within a few weeks or they will work themselves out.  The initial burning and aching will normally subside over a few days.  It is not unusual, however, to have aches and discomfort for some weeks afterward.

Shark attacks are rare in Hawaii.  With all the millions of times people entered the ocean in 1999, there were only five shark attacks off the Hawaiian Islands.  To minimize the chance of an encounter don't swim at dawn, at dusk, in rough water, or in murky water.  Also avoid the mouths of rivers where sharks tend to wait for dead animals that are carried into the sea.  And of course, don't be in the water with an open wound or anywhere near bloody fish or meat (perhaps to be used as bait)  because sharks are definitely attracted to blood.  Surfers seem to be more vulnerable than swimmers, probably because they venture further from shore.


Check Out Each Island's Beaches Below

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Big Island
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