redirect this post:
There may be a relationship between air travel and snorkeling deaths. As if you needed another reminder to make Hawaii beach safety your priority when you visit the islands. Here’s the latest update to our Hawaii beach safety tips following this week’s visitor drowning near the luxurious Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The deceased was 61-year-old John Mackenzie of Oregon. An autopsy will determine the exact cause of death.
Less than two weeks ago, another visitor drowned snorkeling at Kaanapali, Maui. 45-year-old Tommy Cheng from California was found face down in the water near Black Rock.
Both of these deaths, and countless others, appear related to snorkeling.
A new study finds a possible relationship between air travel and snorkeling deaths.
The just completed 3-year Snorkel Safety Study, funded by the State of Hawaii, has found there may be a relationship between travel and snorkel drownings. We’ve embedded the entire report below. The main takeaway is not to snorkel within a few days of a transpacific flight. That applies not just to visitors but also to Hawaii residents returning from the mainland. Another primary takeaway is that the safest snorkel is one that doesn’t have tip modifications to keep water from entering.
Many have wondered for years why visitors die from snorkel-related drowning so much more than do residents. The study says that most of these deaths aren’t related to inhaling water, as some had thought. Instead, drownings are largely due to low oxygen levels related to fluid buildup in the lungs. It is called rapid onset pulmonary edema (ROPE), which is induced by hypoxia.
In addition, the study found that both pre-existing coronary conditions, gender and age are other factors. In fact, a specific heart condition impacts middle-aged men more than others.
One interesting finding is that those who die this way do not struggle in the way one would when inhaling water. That is why victims are often found face down in the water. ROPE results in muscle fatigue and then loss of consciousness.
Hawaii has had more than 200 snorkeling deaths in the past ten years. Of those, more than 90% were visitors.
More takeaways from the study include that it is safer to snorkel where you can touch the ocean bottom. Also, the obvious, if you can’t swim, you shouldn’t snorkel.
The risk of serious incidents happening to visitors is 10x that for residents.
Visitors in Hawaii drown, by snorkeling and otherwise, at an exponentially greater rate than residents.
On average, one visitor dies this way each week here in the islands.
Snorkeling remains the most common activity associated with visitor drownings.
The state of Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) launched an ocean safety website to help. It was designed to raise awareness of risk factors and increase our protection. This includes information on lifeguarded beaches, ocean conditions, warnings, which beaches have the most injuries, and other ocean accident data. DOH coordinator Bridget Velasco said, “Keeping everyone who goes to the ocean safe is a top priority.”
Your Beat of Hawaii editors are avid swimmers but use and advise caution ourselves. The slogan, “if in doubt, don’t go out,” is valid for everyone. It is easy to think that you are more powerful than the ocean, but that is never the case. Our advice is only to snorkel when the surface is smooth and be mindful of your distance from the shore. Even though we are experienced swimmers, we usually follow the shoreline rather than swim straight out. Also, as anyone will tell you, swimming in a controlled environment like a pool is not the same as being in the ocean.
Top Ten Hawaii Beach Safety Tips.
Issues can include strong currents, wave surges, and seasonal variations in ocean conditions, among others. Be alert, do not turn your back on the ocean, and follow these suggestions for your Hawaii vacation:
1. Minimize risk by being highly aware and respectful of ocean conditions’ dangers.
2. Choose to swim at Hawaii beaches that are lifeguard protected. Also, look for rescue station tubes at many beaches.
3. Follow Hawaii beach warnings and closures.
4. Check with a lifeguard if in any doubt.
5. Observe the water for some time before entering to look for more giant waves appearing in groups.
6. Review ocean safety brochures that are provided in visitor accommodations.
7. Visit ocean safety websites, including the new one referenced above and the Hawaii Beach Safety website from the Hawaii Lifeguard Association. Check for frequent updates on Hawaii surf conditions and warnings for all islands.
8. Understand rip currents and how to deal with them.
9. Avoid painful jellyfish stings – read our updated Hawaii jellyfish update and calendar.
10. Don’t get caught on wet rocks where unexpected waves can suddenly appear. Also, look for hidden underwater rocks at beaches.
And from this study:
1. Snorkel in water where you can touch the bottom.
2. Avoid snorkeling within the first few days of arrival following a trans-Pacific flight. The study suggests a possible relationship between long flights and snorkeling deaths.
3. Use a snorkel which doesn’t restrict air and water flow.
Can This Happen to You?
Drowning can happen to anyone at any beach, no matter how famous you are or how good shape. There were 84 drownings in the latest year studied. Other accidents were primarily attributable to hiking and car crashes.
Hawaii beaches are accessible year-round, so you can always find a beach that’s suitable for you. Surf conditions change rapidly with and as do the seasons. For example, if you visited Hanalei Bay in summer, you found a mostly calm surface for swimming. In the winter, however, the surf at Hanalei can be a dangerous 30 feet or more. Even on one day, the surf can start calm and end wild. It can literally change in minutes.
Some of the Deadliest Hawaii Beaches.
Surprisingly, the deadliest beaches may not be those that first come to mind. Many drownings occur at some of the smoothest water beaches where visitors are snorkeling or swimming.
- Hanauma Bay – Oahu (pictured above)
- Waikiki Beach
- Black Rock – Maui
- Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon – Oahu
- Molokini – Islet off Maui
Some of the Most Dangerous Hawaii Beaches.
Dangerous beaches in terms of injury but not mortality include the following. If your beach isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have concerns:
- Makena Beach – Maui
- Hapuna Beach – Big Island
- Sandy Beach – Oahu
- Brennecke Beach (Poipu) – Kauai
- Laaloa Beach – Big Island
Please add your thoughts! Mahalo.