Hawaii’s visitor-drowning rate is 13 times the national average and was nearly 10 times the rate of Hawaii residents from 2003 to 2012. Nearly one tourist dies each week while engaged in common vacation activities like swimming, snorkeling, hiking and going on scenic drives.
Snorkeling remains by far the most common activity in drowning incidents, with 169 people drowning while snorkeling between 2007 and 2016, according to the state health department. Of those, 156 were visitors.
Solutions have remained scarce. The counties have increased their collection of data, such as what type of snorkeling equipment was worn in a drowning. There is concern that the new full-face masks entering the market may present hidden hazards.
But efforts to put more lifeguards at more beaches, particularly those known to be hazardous and increasingly popular, have fallen short. Safety warnings have been watered down as well, with the tourism industry not wanting to scare away the visitors that the state economy depends on.