LIHUE — Dr. Monty Downs knows that despite the best of efforts, tragic accidents happen in the ocean.
“Every day is an adventure in our waters, to be honest with you,” he said Monday. “We think we’re doing everything we can and then we just get kicked in the teeth by something that we don’t want to happen, but does happen.”
And what happens, sadly, is that people drown.
So far this year, there have been 11 confirmed drownings on Kauai. Officials are hoping that number climbs no higher.
A special ceremony was held Monday at the Lihue Civic Center’s Mo‘ikeha Courtyard as Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami proclaimed July 21 to 27 as Hawaii Beach Safety Week on Kauai.
“The unpredictable ocean environment poses many dangers which should never be taken lightly,” he said. “Through public awareness and vigilance of our professional lifeguards and partners throughout our community, I believe we can together effectively decrease drowning statistics islandwide.”
In an effort to bring awareness on drowning prevention, each county will highlight ocean safety messages throughout Hawaii Beach Safety Week. Kauai’s messaging is focused on the dangers of swimming at unguarded beaches.
“About 95 percent of all drownings occur at unguarded beaches,” said Ocean Safety Bureau Chief Kalani Vierra.
He said the county urges residents and visitors to swim only at lifeguarded beaches.
“Your chances of drowning at a lifeguarded beach are very low,” Vierra said. “Your chances of drowning at an unguarded beach are very high.”
Hawaii Beach Safety Week coincides with the State of Hawaii Ocean Safety and Drowning Prevention Conference scheduled Friday at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. Following the conference on July 27, junior lifeguards from all islands will compete in the State Junior Lifeguard Championships at Makaha Beach on Oahu.
Kauai Ocean Safety officials promote beach safety efforts year-round through daily surf conditions and updates on the Hawaii Beach Safety website, videos at the Lihue Airport, programs for keiki and junior lifeguards, and updated beach safety guides provided at hotels islandwide.
The Ocean Safety Bureau also recently added a new roving patrol unit at ‘Anini Beach and starting Aug. 1, officials will extend the hours for roving patrol coverage at unguarded beaches on north, east, and south shores to 8 a.m. 6 p.m.
Downs said extending coverage hours is something that has long been considered. Lifeguard towers close at 5, but it doesn’t get dark for several more hours.
“This is a huge breakthrough, especially in the summertime,” he said.
Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguards Association, added that the few hundred rescue tubes around Kauai have helped save lives.
“We’ve had some amazing stories,” he said.
He has met people in the emergency room at Wilcox Hospital who were grateful for them because their lives were saved when they got into trouble in the ocean.
“They tell me they would have died if someone hadn’t appeared with the yellow flotation device,” he said.
Kilipaki Vaughn, deputy fire chief, praised the Ocean Safety Bureau for doing a fantastic job while calling on visitors and locals to do their part and be vigilant around the waters.
“Kauai has some of the most dangerous beaches in the world,” he said.
Kawakami said ensuring the safety of people “is of paramount importance to county government.
“Our commitment to making sure our public is safe is evident by everything that we do,” he said.
He thanked first responders, police, fire, ocean safety, paramedics and dispatchers for their efforts.
“Kauai is leading the way as far as educating our public about beach safety and we continue to do so,” he said.
The mayor also highlighted community support in helping provide the county with equipment and coverage for ocean safety. KLA, for instance, has raised more than $1 million in the past eight years.
“The rest of the counties across the state are beginning to notice and they’re following in Kauai’s footsteps,” Kawakami said.
Vierra said they hope to spread the message of beach safety throughout the week and called on everyone to “do our part as citizens of Kauai and try to educate our visitors, friends, or family who are visiting to make sure when they visit our beaches they are safe.”
“Remember to know your limits, know the conditions, and when in doubt, don’t go out,” he said.
If you go out
The Ocean Safety Bureau recommends the following tips for all beachgoers:
1. Use the buddy system.
2. Check for the latest ocean conditions at www.hawaiibeachsafety.com.
3. Before entering the water, observe the ocean conditions for at least 20 minutes. Take special note of any dangerous shore break or rip currents.
4. Observe for any warnings or signs posted in the general area.
5. Always have an emergency action plan.
Source: The Garden Island