State touts beach safety website; It provides info about weather, ocean conditions

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The state and counties have kicked off a campaign to inform visitors about a website providing almost real-time information about surf, weather and safety conditions at lifeguarded beaches statewide.


The state and counties have kicked off a campaign to inform visitors about a website providing almost real-time information about surf, weather and safety conditions at lifeguarded beaches statewide.

The website,, is sponsored by the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association.

“We’re hoping to prevent drowning fatalities and minimize injuries throughout the state,” said Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki, who oversees the department’s Ocean Safety Division. “One of the targets is nonresident drownings, which (is responsible for) the highest incidences of nonresident deaths.”

Most major airports throughout the state will now feature prominent large-scale posters at airport baggage claims notifying visitors and residents of the website. Kosaki said one of the signs was posted in Kona’s Keahole International Airport. Because of funding limitations, Hilo, which has fewer tourist arrivals, hasn’t yet received a sign, Kosaki said.

“We have a lot of nonresident drownings, but they’re concentrated on the west side of the island,” he said. “On the east side of the island, we have the highest incidence of resident drownings in the state, percentage wise. That’s from opihi picking, shoreline fishermen, local people who visit the shoreline area.”

The signs, according to a state Department of Health statement, are the product of a partnership with DOH, the Department of Transportation, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the counties and Hawaiian Lifeguard Association.

The beach safety website collects updated wind, wave and other data, and posts a hazard rating for lifeguarded beaches that can be used to help beach-goers make informed decisions for reducing their risk of injury in the water. The site also provides up-to-date information about beach closures and active alerts.

“When you have shark sightings or you have beach closures due to high surf, it can be posted in real time, so people who go on the website can know,” said Kosaki, who’s a co-chairman of the newly formed Hawaii Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee, which is tasked with the mission of helping Hawaii visitors and residents stay safe in and around the water.

“Drowning is a major public health issue in our island state, and building awareness about ocean safety among our visitors and residents is absolutely necessary, ” said state Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler.

Added Department of Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami: “The posters have been strategically placed near baggage claims so that residents and visitors alike will notice them while they are waiting for their luggage and gain valuable information before they head to the beach.”

Visitors are eight times more likely to drown than island residents, DOH said. In addition, for every fatal drowning there are several non-fatal drowning survivors who could suffer severe lifelong disabilities, including brain damage.

Visitors also are at a much greater risk of sustaining spinal cord injuries from ocean activities such as body boarding and body surfing, comprising more than 75 percent of such patients in Hawaii.

A recent HTA and DOH survey found 97 percent of English-speaking visitors went to a beach while in Hawaii, and about half visited beaches four or more times during their stay. About 36 percent of the 1,275 surveyed visitors said it was “very important” and 28 percent said it was “somewhat important” to have lifeguards present at the beaches they visited.

A majority responded the presence of lifeguards makes them feel safer at the beach.

Only 3 percent of those surveyed were aware of HLA’s beach safety website, which Kosaki said has been in operation “for some time.”

“It’s really informative; it’s a great website,” Kosaki said. “I don’t think it’s utilized enough yet, but hopefully, with trying to inform the public about the website, we’ll get more people going on to get the information before they go to the beach.”

“We always preach that if you’re going to go swimming at the beach, go to a beach that’s guarded instead of some beach in a remote area,” he added.

George Szigeti, HTA president and CEO, touted Hawaii’s lifeguards as “the world’s best at keeping people safe when enjoying the ocean.”

“We urge everyone to always use lifeguarded beaches and be informed about ocean conditions before entering the water, and the website will provide this information,” he said.

Kosaki said the statewide advisory committee also is working to start informing visitors about ocean safety prior to their arrival in the Islands.


“We’re trying to enact legislation to put a safety video on flights from the mainland that you watch before you land here on the island, with things you can do, things you shouldn’t do around the beaches and waterways — not only the beaches, but also the rivers.” he said.

Email John Burnett at

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