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Beach Signs and Safety in Hawaii

Updated on June 27, 2012

A sign for (almost) every occasion

Life guards do an awesome job every single day warning people and rescuing the ones who underestimate the ocean (or overestimate themselves). In places with no life guards, ocean safety signs and common sense should suffice. The signs are ample on our local popular and hidden beaches, “Dangerous Shorebreak”, “Strong Current”, “Waves Break on Ledge” or “High Surf”, just to name the most common ones here. One sign is not directly related to beach safety, but since it’s probably unique to Hawaii, I would like to include it here. The “Collision Hazard Humpback Whales” is posted for the winter months, when Humpback Whales are found around the Islands. Occasionally, they like to come close to shore, where the water is deep enough like along Oahu's southeast shore. Boat traffic is rather high and even increased of course by the rising number of whale watching tour boats. So inevitably, this leads sometimes to incidents, which can be harmful to the whale and the people on board.

Sandy Beach has year round signs
Sandy Beach has year round signs | Source
Sign at the Maunalua Bay Boat Ramp
Sign at the Maunalua Bay Boat Ramp
Lanai Lookout
Lanai Lookout
Life guards are always busy at Sandy Beach
Life guards are always busy at Sandy Beach

High Surf

Seasonal, monthly occurrences, and geological formations many times influence where those signs need to be put up. One example for seasonal change is high surf, caused by powerful storms thousands of kilometers away. With its strong currents and rip currents it affects Oahu’s (and similarly neighbor islands’) coast lines at different times of the year. South, southeast and southwest sides are hit by large waves during the summer months. South Pacific storms can result in wave heights of 5 m and occasionally even higher (in the years 1998 and 2003, e.g.). In the wintertime, ‘Surf’s Up’ at northeast and northwest shores, and especially at the famous North Shore. Waves grow even larger here with face heights up to 25 m and its the place for big waves surfer and scene of the Triple Crown Contest and the Eddie Aikau tournament (memorial contest, which is held only with minimum wave face heights of over 10 m).

Surf's Up at North Shore
Surf's Up at North Shore
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Triple Crown at Sunset Beach
Three Tables, famous dive spot in the summer
Three Tables, famous dive spot in the summer

Geological formations

Rock formations can also pose great danger not only for beach goers. One of the most popular tourist routes leads along Oahu’s southeast shore, with its majestic rocky lava ledges between Hanauma Bay and Makapu’u. Numerous look outs like Lanai Lookout or Halona Blowhole offer spectacular views of waves crashing on the rugged coastline. The Blowhole is an attraction of its own with its waterspout, which sometimes reaches heights of 8 m and beyond. Right next to it though is the Halona Beach Cove or “Eternity Beach" from the 1950s movie “From Here to Eternity”. Especially around this area it is tempting to go beyond the walls and signs, down to the sometimes flat ledges. Those are great places to watch Green Sea Turtles grazing seaweed and also favorite shore fishing spots, like Bamboo Ridge. Seeing experienced locals swinging their bait at the edge of the cliffs gives even more the false impression that it is safe along this stretch for the not so experienced as well.

The steep drop off is what gives the Pacific an almost magic inviting deep blue color and leads the Humpback Whales almost within reach. Since Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific, the seafloor steeply drops off rather close to the land. The same deep water is also the reason for powerful waves breaking on the cliffs, unpredictably and unexpectedly. Not only do they have the potential of easily knocking people over and washing them away, but since the lava is porous and thus brittle, it can crumble or suddenly break off.

View from Sandy Beach
View from Sandy Beach
View from Lanai Lookout, Fisherman right in the middle of the picture
View from Lanai Lookout, Fisherman right in the middle of the picture
Blowhole and Eternity Beach
Blowhole and Eternity Beach

The Pacific Ocean surrounding Hawaii shows every day how powerful it is, but getting a little bit of information in advance and applying common sense go a long way to stay safe and enjoy the indescribable beauty of the Islands.

Get in sync with the motion of the ocean!


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