Ocean Safety: Hawaii Guide


Hawaii is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit, but it’s important to remember the ocean can be dangerous. With this in mind, we’ve put together a guide to ocean safety in Hawaii. In this article, we’ll discuss topics such as how to stay safe while swimming, what to do if you’re caught in a rip current, how to identify dangerous marine life, and much more. So whether you’re planning a trip to Hawaii or you’re just curious about ocean safety, read on for some helpful tips!

The Hawaiian Ocean

The ocean in Hawaii can change fast and be unpredictable. One minute the ocean can be calm and relaxing, the next it can quickly change as the wind and swell increase creating strong rip currents and dangerous conditions. It’s always wise to be cautious when swimming in Hawaii’s waters, as even the most experienced swimmer can be caught off guard by a sudden change in the ocean conditions. Paying attention to posted signs is very important and we always recommend checking with lifeguards for current ocean conditions.

With a little caution, you can enjoy Hawaii’s beautiful beaches without putting yourself at risk.

Basic Safety Tips

Here are some of the most important things to consider when enjoying your beach and swimming time.

  • Always check with the lifeguards at the beach for current wave and ocean conditions. This simple step could save your life. When in doubt don’t go out!
  • Never turn your back on the ocean. The waves are highly unpredictable in Hawaii so always be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you’re on a rocky coast or beach and the rocks are wet – that means that place gets hit with waves. You can easily be hit by a wave and swept off the rocks or knocked over and pummeled on the rocks. Use caution in these areas.
  • Avoid getting close to or standing over blowholes. They are fascinating to watch but are best viewed from a distance. They can knock you over and pull you in.
  • Always show respect for locals and the native culture. Be aware of fishing and diving areas.

In The Water Tips

There are more things to consider when entering the ocean and going for a swim.

  • Use extreme caution if swimming in areas with no lifeguards. It typically means these beaches are not meant for swimming, and you could get into trouble and have no help. Swim at beaches with lifeguards for safety.
  • Keep an eye on the surf report and monitor the conditions regularly. Look out for common hazards such as rip currents, shore break, rocks, and shallow reefs.
  • Wave height can change quickly. Dive underneath waves to reduce the impact and lower the chances of getting tossed around.
    Do not swim while under the influence. This can tire you out and cause you to overestimate your abilities.
    Know your limits
  • If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Do not fight it or panic and attempt to swim straight towards the shore. Swimming at an angle, parallel to the beach, is the best way out of a rip current.

Listen to the posted signs!

These signs are there for a reason – to keep you safe. They’ll inform you of dangerous and hazardous conditions. So next time you’re headed to the beach, make sure to take a few minutes to read the signs.

Some common signs you might notice are:

  • Dangerous Shorebreak, meaning the waves break hard on the beach and put you at risk of getting slammed and causing potential neck or spinal injury.
  • Strong Current, Strong and fast-moving water that can be challenging to swim against.
  • High Surf, These signs tell you the ocean has large and powerful waves.
  • Waves Break On Ledge, Wet rocks and shorelines can have waves that break above where you think the water is. This can sweep you off your feet and pull you into hazardous areas.
  • No Swimming, Don’t swim here. The sign is there to save your life and means there are conditions that make it too dangerous.
  • No Diving, Depths are unknown and diving could result in injury.
  • Jellyfish & Man-O-War, Risk of being stung by jellyfish in this area. Use caution.
  • Shark Sighted, Easy to understand – sharks have been seen nearby that area.

Animals and Sea Life To Look Out For

While the chances of encountering some of these animals and sea creatures are pretty rare, it always helps to know what to look for.


Sharks are a part of any ocean you visit. Just because they are there doesn’t mean you need to worry. There are many things you can do to decrease the chances of you ever being near a shark.

Pay attention to posted signs and do some research on the beach you are swimming at. Some beaches are known to not have many sharks, while other bays could have more frequent sightings. It comes down to asking around and getting good information from government websites, lifeguards, and sometimes locals.


Jellyfish are found in all oceans, and at certain times and conditions are common in Hawaii. The warm waters of Hawaii provide an ideal habitat for jellyfish, the most common being the Portuguese man ‘o war also known as “Blue Bottle. Typically, the jellyfish in Hawaii are prevalent when the moon is full. The higher tides help bring them to shore. They can also be more common in parts of the island such as the Windward side where the prevailing trade winds blow them onshore. Lifeguards will typically spot signs and if you’re at a beach with no lifeguard and the described conditions, proceed with caution. In areas where the prevailing trade wind blows on shore, you can usually walk along the shoreline and the water’s edge and see the “Blue Bottles that have washed in. This is a good indication of whether or not there are jellyfish in the water.

Wearing a rash guard or wetsuit can help to protect against stings, and it is always best to avoid touching jellyfish if possible. With a little knowledge and caution, you can safely enjoy the beauty of these fascinating creatures.

Jellyfish are often portrayed as dangerous creatures, but most species are actually harmless to humans. These creatures have a simple structure, consisting of a thin layer of skin that surrounds a network of nerves. Jellyfish rely on the ocean currents to move around, and they use their tentacles to capture prey. While jellyfish stings can be painful, they are rarely fatal. In fact, most jellyfish stings can be treated with home remedies such as vinegar or hot water.

Sea Urchins:

Sea urchins are small, spiny creatures that can be found on the reef and rocks around the Hawaiian islands. These unusual animals are actually members of the echinoderm family, which also includes sea stars and sand dollars. Sea urchins have no arms or legs. Instead, they have a series of short, tube-like feet that they use for moving about and grasping food.

While they may seem delicate, sea urchins are actually quite tough; their bodies are covered in a hard exoskeleton made of calcium carbonate. This tough outer shell helps to protect them from predators and from being damaged by waves. Sea urchins are usually found in shallow water near coral reefs, where they feed on algae and other small creatures.

When they are disturbed, they can quickly release their spines as a way of defending themselves. These sharp spines can be painful when the stick into human skin, so it is best to admire these creatures from a distance. Use caution when swimming around coral reefs or rocky shorelines as to not step or bump into one.


Coral is alive and is a teeming ecosystem of bacteria and more. Because the coral reefs can be sharp it can cut and scrap swimmers who come into contact with it. Finally, coral can also harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infections. Because of these dangers, it is important to exercise caution when swimming in areas with coral reefs.

In particular, swimmers should avoid touching or stepping on coral, to protect themselves from getting injured and to help protect the natural coral reefs as they are living organisms that can be damaged from humus walking on them

Just a little bit of attention and you can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and more in Hawaii’s beautiful coral reefs.

With a bit of common sense, you can enjoy Hawaii’s Oceans!

While all of this information may be intimidating, it’s there to help keep you safe. In order to enjoy the beauty of this place, you have to respect the ocean and its power. By following these basic rules and guidelines you will stay safe and happy. Remember – when in doubt, don’t go out!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about your trip to Hawaii and ocean safety – reach out to our experienced and knowledgeable staff at Surf N Sea. We are here to help you understand and enjoy Hawaii’s oceans. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you at the beach!