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Beach Safety on Maui

Hawaii's beautiful beaches can be dangerous at times due to large waves and strong currents. The state rates wave hazards using three signs: a yellow square (caution), a red stop sign (high hazard), and a black diamond (extreme hazard). Signs are posted and updated three times daily or as conditions change.

Generally, North Shore beaches (including Slaughterhouse and D. T. Fleming on the west side of the island) can be rough in the winter and not good for swimming or beginner-level water sports. On the south side, Kona storms (which usually occur in winter) can cause strong rip currents and powerful shore breaks.

Swim only when there's a normal caution rating, never swim alone, and don't dive into unknown water or shallow breaking waves. If you're unable to swim out of a rip current, tread water and wave your arms in the air to signal for help.

Even in calm conditions, there are other dangerous things in the water to be aware of, including razor-sharp coral, jellyfish, eels, and the occasional shark. Jellyfish cause the most ocean injuries, and signs are posted along beaches when they're present. Box jellyfish swarm to Hawaii's leeward shores 9 to 10 days after a full moon. Portuguese man-of-wars are usually found when winds blow from the ocean onto land. Reactions to a sting are usually mild (burning sensation, redness); however, in some cases they can be severe (breathing difficulties). If you are stung, pick off the tentacles, rinse the affected area with water, and apply ice. Seek first aid from a lifeguard if you experience severe reactions.

According to state sources, the chances of getting bitten by a shark in Hawaiian waters are low. To reduce your shark-attack risk:

Swim, surf, or dive with others at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.

Avoid swimming at dawn, dusk, and night.

Don't enter the water if you have open wounds or are bleeding.

Avoid murky waters, harbor entrances, areas near stream mouths, channels, or steep drop-offs.

Don't wear high-contrast swimwear or shiny jewelry.

If you spot a shark, leave the water quickly and calmly.

Updated: 2014-06-23

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