Common Hazardous Beach, Surf, & Ocean Conditions

Waves on Rocks


Beach, Surf, & Ocean


". . . Warning, Warning, Danger, Danger!"
- Robot, "Lost In Space"


We especially want you to be aware of the following dangerous and hazardous conditions that exist at many of Hawaii's beaches:


On This Web Page You'll Find Information On:

(BTW, these warnings also apply to most other beach and ocean areas outside of Hawai`i!)






SHARP CORAL: Most of Hawaii's beaches have sharp coral reefs close to the shoreline. Use caution when swimming in shallow reef areas. Should you be injured, see a lifeguard for minor first aid assistance. City and County of Honolulu lifeguardsCoral can radio or call for an emergency ground or helicopter emergency medical ambulance in very severe circumstances. Should coral become embedded deeply see your doctor as soon as possible to have it removed. Deep cuts should be attended to by a physician to avoid the risk of infection. If you're tide pooling or reef walking wear protective foot gear.

Quick tip: SHARP CORAL

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DANGEROUS SHORE BREAKDANGEROUS SHORE BREAK: This is the condition when waves break directly on the shore. Shore breaks are unpredictable and dangerous. They have caused many serious neck and spinal injuries to both experienced and inexperienced bodysurfers and swimmers.

North Shore Dangerous Shore Break. Photo by Claudia Ferrari

Small waves can be very dangerous, too! (Surfers' slang for small waves is "ankle busters.") Be sure to ask a lifeguard about the wave conditions at the beach you may be attending. Be especially careful when the surf's up and running fast!

Quick tip: DANGEROUS SHOREBREAKDangerous Shore Break - Ke`iki Beach, Photo by Claudia Ferrari.
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[HIGH SURF]HIGH SURF: Large powerful waves are generated by winds and storms at sea sometimes thousands of miles from the Hawaiian Islands. Seasonal high surf occurs on all shores of O`ahu. Typically, shorelines facing North, East and West receive high surf during Winter months. Shores facing Southeast and Southwest receive high surf during Summer months. [HIGH SURF] If you're uncertain of your abilities, don't go into the ocean during high surf; heed all posted high surf warnings! Your life could depend on it! Surf on the North shore may reach heights of twenty-five feet plus, - on the West shore, fifteen feet plus! These are averages - so remember, individual wave sets can get as big as fifty feet. Quick tip: HIGH SURF


In summary, here's some big surf safety tips:

CheckmarkNever turn your back on the ocean! - Mai huli `oe i kokua o ke kai!
CheckmarkSwim at beaches with lifeguards
CheckmarkCheck with lifeguards for conditions
CheckmarkRead and observe posted sign warnings
CheckmarkWatch children carefully. Hold on to the younger ones.
CheckmarkWatch the surf for at least 15 minutes before entering the water
CheckmarkNever attempt to swim at the water's edge during big surf
CheckmarkNever surf or bodyboard in big waves unless you are an expert
CheckmarkNever rely on your board or leash as a substitute for your swimming ability
CheckmarkNever swim in big surf if you are not a strong swimmer
CheckmarkDo not drink alcohol or do drugs and swim
CheckmarkKeiki, "Newbies" & "Grommits:" Watch out for your own and others' surfcraft if/when you wipe out
CheckmarkIf In Doubt, Just Stay Out!

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[STRONG CURRENTS]STRONG CURRENT: These are swift moving channels of water against which it is difficult to swim. Strong currents frequently accompany high surf and rapid tide changes and can be recognized as a turbulent channel of water between areas where waves are breaking. Rough Seas When caught in a strong current -- Try to keep a level head, i.e., don't panic! Wave one or both hands in the air, and scream or call for help. Swim diagonally to the current, not against it. Please heed all posted warnings! Your life could depend on it!

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[WAVES ON LEDGE]WAVES ON LEDGE: These are large waves originating from deep water breaking on rock ledges. However, this condition can occur even when the water appears to be calm. Be very cautious when walking along rocky coastlines where waves are breaking. Rocks become slippery and are sharp, abrasive lava stone. Lava is very porous and it crumbles easily. [WAVES ON ROCKS]
Don't ever go into the wet rocky zone. The ocean is unpredictable and has been known to wash people away. Don't put yourself in a position where you could be swept away. Please heed all posted warnings! Your life could depend on it!

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And, just when you thought it was safe to read on . . .

Visit our SHARK pages by clicking here.

Click here for telephone numbers you can call to report a sighting of large (i.e., more than eight feet long), aggressive sharks in Hawai`i.


See several shark species safely, live, at Honolulu's Waikiki Aquarium!


The aquarium is also just a great place to visit to see and learn about Hawai`i and the Pacific Basin's ocean environment, indigenous marine organisms, reefs and coral, seals, and efforts to save and protect them.


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Watch Out For Two Legged Critters, Too!

John Clark writes in his superb book The Beaches of O'ahu:

" . . . A major problem at many of Oahu's beaches is thefts from cars. Many people especially tourists, lose thousands of dollars each year in cash, cameras, jewelry, and other personal items of value. AVOID THEFT - SECURE ALL VALUABLES - DIAL 911 IN AN EMERGENCY!The thieves operating in the beach areas are very professional and can break into a locked car and car trunk, loot it, and be gone within a few minutes. Beach goers, especially tourists, should bring with them only what is necessary and should never leave anything of value in the car even if it is locked. Automobiles from car rental agencies are prime targets.

"The Honolulu Police Department is well aware of this problem and details officers in casual clothes to assist the regular beat men in patrolling the particularly hard-hit areas. These protective efforts, however, do not deter the thieves in spite of the large number of arrests that are made each year. The business is much too lucrative. Any valuables that are not going to be personally carried should be left in the hotel or at home."

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