A Kauai summer vacation is every family's dream. The beach is the number one destination for most families visiting Kauai, but during the summer months, ocean conditions can vary. South swells can cause large surf and rip currents. Rocky shorelines can cause additional hazards. Unfortunately, these hazardous conditions are responsible for many drownings each year here on the Garden Island. The good news is there are several steps you can take to help keep your family safe at the beach while visiting Kauai.
Learn how to swim. Learning to swim is your best defense against drowning. Make sure to send your children to swimming classes. You and your children should also learn how to float and tread water. These are important skills that can save your life.
Never swim, snorkel, or surf alone. Always use the buddy system, even if your friend is watching from shore.
Learn CPR. If you are at the beach with children, it is a good idea that an adult who knows CPR is watching without any distractions.
Watch or listen to the news before going to the beach; in particular, pay attention to the weather, ocean conditions, and surf report.
Choose a beach that is protected by a lifeguard.
The United States Lifesaving Association has calculated that the chance of drowning at a beach that is protected by a lifeguard is about 1 in 18 million. But don’t just choose a lifeguarded beach, you should also check in with the lifeguard to find out if there is anything you need to know that is specific to that beach. Of course you should always listen to and obey what the lifeguards tell you.
Read and obey all signs and warnings displayed at the beach; they may contain valuable information that can keep you safe. If there are rescue tubes posted at the beach, become familiar with how to use them by reading the instructions.
Don’t depend on a flotation device if you cannot swim.*
Nonswimmers, snorkelers, and children often use flotation devices, like inflatable rafts, inner tubes, and pool noodles to go offshore. If they fall off or become separated from these devices in deep water, they could quickly drown. *The only exception should be if you are wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
Rip currents and ocean conditions
Rip currents are dangerous. To help protect yourself and your family, watch how the ocean is behaving before going in the water and learn how to spot a rip current.
Spotting a rip current
Look for foamy, sandy, or turbulent water where the surf is disrupted. You may see an area that looks like a channel moving out to sea, or an area where the water is noticeably different in color. Sometimes it is difficult to assess where rip currents are located. Try throwing a piece of driftwood into the water and then watch where the current takes it.
Learn what to do if you get pulled into a rip current.
If you find that you are getting pulled into a rip current, try to remain calm in order to conserve energy. First, never fight against the current, this will only wear you out. Instead, try to swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline. Then you can swim away from the current towards the shore. If you are still unable to reach shore, tread water and signal for help by waving your arms and yelling for help. Wearing fins can help you in conditions where high surf and currents are prevalent.
If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard!
This is very important! Do not try to be a hero! Every year friends and family members jump in to try to save their loved ones only to end up becoming victims themselves. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the rip current victim something that floats. Some beaches have rescue tubes but you can use a life jacket, a cooler, or even an inflatable ball. Stay on the shore and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip or dangerous surf.
Learning to swim in the surf is not the same as swimming in a pool. If you’ve never been swimming in the surf, don’t underestimate its power. Even small waves can easily knock you down and drag you out.
If you decide to venture out in the surf, keep the following in mind:
Wearing fins can assist you. Never fight the surf, it will tire you out. If a wave is about to break on you, do not turn your back to it, instead face the wave and duck or dive under it. This allows the wave to go over you instead of breaking on your head. Always avoid swimming in front of surfers and body boarders. You might get run over and you could get injured by a board. If the waves are big enough to attract a lot of surfers, stay out of the water. Remember, rip currents are much stronger in high surf.
Keep young children away from the water’s edge during high surf. Even a small wave can knock a child down and drag him or her into the surf. As Pomai found out, small children can be especially tough to spot in the whitewater where waves are breaking.
If you want to learn how to surf, consider taking a lesson from a reputable instructor. They will help point out many of the things that we are discussing in this ocean safety guide.
Wear a leash if you use a surfboard or bodyboard.
When you wear a leash, you will not become separated from your board and the board will not become separated from you. Unleashed boards can become a safety hazard to others, but a leash can prevent a runaway board from hitting someone on the head or running them over.
Rocks are slippery.
Never walk out anywhere near the edge of a rocky coastline. Rocks are slippery, especially when wet and sudden waves can easily knock you off the rocks and sweep you into the ocean. Barriers are often put up along dangerous rocky shoreline areas to help reduce this risk. Never go beyond the barrier and always obey the signs that are posted. They are there to keep you safe. Instead, watch these dramatic coastline vistas from a distance. It is not worth the risk to get a better picture.
Drinking and swimming do not mix. Many drownings have been attributed to the use of alcohol. Even if you do not plan to go in the water, your children probably will. You need to be at your best to watch, protect, and potentially retrieve your children. You don’t want anything to impair your judgment or make you take any unnecessary risks.
Always be cautious around the water.
Even the most experienced watermen (and women) can get into trouble. As the lifeguards always say, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
Stay safe and have a great time in the water this summer. These tips were excerpted from the soon to be released book, Pomaikai and the Magic Turtle by Monika Mira.