The Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) is recognizing drowning prevention efforts across the islands as the state observes Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week on Sept. 20-26.
While the annual on-scene beach safety events such as State Ocean Safety Conference and Jr. Lifeguard Championships have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a statewide campaign, “Ocean Safety Amidst a Pandemic: Keeping your Ohana Safe,” will showcase radio spots and other safety messaging from water safety officials in each county. The counties and the Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee express gratitude to Archie Kalepa and OluKai for sponsoring these efforts during Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week.
With COVID-related travel restrictions, the number of visitors at local beaches is drastically reduced, but all counties have seen an increase in residents going fishing and participating in other shoreline and beach activities. Counties are highlighting various efforts to keep people safe in and around the ocean.
According to the DOH, residents comprised eight of nine fatal ocean drownings in Hawai‘i since April (compared to only four of the 14 fatal drownings from January through March, the pre-lockdown period in Hawai‘i). Fatal ocean drownings in the state are projected to be about 50% lower than the annual average of 82 over the last five years. Freediving continues to be one of the most common activities among resident drowning victims, accounting for nearly half (5) of the 12 fatal incidents between January and July 2020.
Kaua‘i County has been able to keep its beach parks open and accessible during the pandemic, yet Ocean Safety Bureau Operations Chief Kalani Vierra notes locals are increasingly seeking out “hidden gems” in remote locations that may prevent quick access to emergency assistance if they get into trouble.
“We will be emphasizing one ocean safety tip a day to compliment the COVID safety messages already out there,” Vierra said. “Our county is doing well keeping COVID at bay, and we have had fewer drownings because we have way fewer tourists, but we don’t want to let our guard down.”
Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week is dedicated to Hawai‘i Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee member and long-time water safety advocate Ray Sanborn, who passed away unexpectedly last week. Sanborn was a founding member of the advisory committee and an enthusiastic contributor to drowning prevention efforts for decades. Sanborn was president and CEO of Kama‘aina Kids.