With Hawaii tourists still 10 times more likely to drown than local residents, the state has created a website that offers a vast array of information on ocean safety.

It steers people to beaches with lifeguards and offers real-time reports on ocean conditions throughout the islands.

“People who visit Hawaii may not realize that even small waves at our beaches can be strong enough to cause serious injury and even death,” said Gerald Kosaki, co-chair of the Hawaii Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee, in a release. “Knowing what beaches to avoid and how to react when a wave is breaking on shore is critical.”

The committee, which formed in 2015, includes 15 organizations, from county lifeguards and state health officials to nonprofits and the U.S. Coast Guard. It has been working the past few years on ways to boost ocean safety, an issue Civil Beat has reported extensively about.

The latest official figures show ocean drownings hit a 10-year high in 2017 with 84 deaths. About 55 percent of the victims were visitors.

The new site says in the past 10 years there were 214 visitor drownings per 100,000 visitors. The rate for residents, by comparison, was just 22 drownings per 100,000 residents.

Beachgoers get inundated by water at Sunset Beach as large waves blanketed the north shore of Oahu. 10 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum.
Waves at Sunset Beach surprise visitors on the north shore of Oahu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Snorkeling remains by far the most common activity during which drownings occurred — especially for tourists. Of the 183 snorkeling-related drownings between 2008 and 2017, 93 percent were visitors.

The site makes a special note about the increasingly popular full-face snorkel masks. The tighter fit of full-face masks can make them harder to remove in an emergency, the site says, and breathing in them through your mouth and nose can create dangerous carbon dioxide buildup.

The site recommends breathing only through your nose while wearing these types of masks, which can reduce the tendency to hyperventilate. It also says it may be uncomfortable to dive more than two or three feet below the surface because of the increasing pressure form the large airspace inside the full-face mask.

“Keeping everyone who goes to the ocean safe is a top priority,” said Bridget Velasco, the Department of Healthʻs drowning and spinal cord injury prevention coordinator.

“We realized that there was no online resource on ocean safety in Hawaii and that it would be valuable for residents and visitors to have a comprehensive website dedicated to providing everything from the interpretation of beach hazard signage to snorkeling tips and basic data about drowning and spinal cord injuries,” she said. “As we continue to build up this website we hope that it will be a community resource for all things ocean safety.”

Check out the website here. For current ocean conditions, go here.

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