water safety tips to keep you and your keiki safe

Anna Koethe
Lynn Shibuya
December 04, 2023
health

No matter what time of year it is, every day is a great day for the pool or beach in Hawaii. But even with crystal-clear water and sunny conditions, your safety can be at risk without proper preparation. We talked to Ben Komer, president of Leahi Swim School, which is Hawaii’s oldest and largest private swim school. Leahi is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Komer is one of the top swim instructors in the state and has taught thousands of people of all ages how to swim over the last 30 years. Here are Leahi’s top water safety tips to help keep you and your family safe, no matter where and how you enjoy the water. 

Water safety tips

1. Learn to swim.
Not only is swimming one of the best forms of exercises, more importantly, it can save your life. In Hawaii, we have the best beaches and weather in the world. But many people don’t realize that it doesn’t take huge surf or unsafe conditions to put someone at risk for drowning. Drowning can happen in the shallowest and calmest water. This is why it’s so important to learn to swim. While the swim school encourages parents to have their children learn to swim in their early years (as early as 6 months old with the assistance of an adult), the truth is that people can learn to swim at any age. 

2. Never swim alone. 
No matter how skilled a swimmer you may be, the American Red Cross advises to never swim alone. Even the strongest swimmers are no match for Mother Nature. Ocean conditions can change in an instant, so use a buddy system and always have someone with you for safety. 

3. Know your limits.
Whether you’re a beginner, novice, or experienced swimmer, it’s important to know your limits. If you’re at the beach and the conditions are hazardous, don’t go out. Pay attention to warning signs and don’t try to swim beyond your means. Swim at pools or beaches where there’s a lifeguard on duty. If you’re an inexperienced or new swimmer, don’t be afraid to let a lifeguard know so they can help keep an eye on you. Lifeguards are there to help keep everyone safe. Find a list of beaches in Hawaii with lifeguards and learn about beach hazard ratings at HIOceanSafety.com

4. Parents, always keep your eyes on your children. 
Komer says he can’t emphasize this one enough. Although your child may be an advanced swimmer or wearing some sort of floatation device, never take your eyes off them when they’re in the water. There’s no such thing as being “drown-proof.” It’s a scary fact that children can drown in less than two inches of water in a matter of seconds. That’s why it’s critical to always pay close attention to keiki. “My family and friends designate an adult to watch the kids and we take turns about every 20 minutes or so to make sure someone is always watching in case someone needs help,” Komer says.

Drowning prevention
According to the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH), drowning is the fifth leading cause of fatal injuries among Hawaii residents and the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 16. Of the fatal drownings in Hawaii, 84% were in the ocean. Children under age 6  made up 28% of fatal swimming pool drownings in Hawaii. 

"Drowning is a major cause of death in Hawaii. That’s why it’s important for all of us to understand the basics of drowning prevention and keep up with the latest advice from experts," says Dan Galanis, Ph.D., DOH Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention Branch. "We want to see our keiki and families enjoying the water safely and reduce their risk of drowning and injury."

Learn more
Looking for more water safety resources? Check out these articles:

surfing safety with waikiki beach boys
Waikiki beach boys share years of water safety experience for anyone looking to try Hawaii's most popular sport: surfing. 

water safety and first aid tips
The American Red Cross offers their top water safety and first aid tips to beachgoers of all ages. 

free swim
Looking to enroll your child in swimming lessons? The City & County of Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation offers tips to find a program that’s best for your family’s needs.

summer water safety guide
Stay safe and learn critical safety skills from the American Red Cross and find out how you can keep yourself and your family safe. 

the value of swim lessons
Read a mom’s firsthand experience with enrolling her children in swimming lessons and her tips for what you should expect. 

need to know: drowning prevention
This article covers it all – from prevention to hands-on safety tips to warning signs of potential drowning. Be informed to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe while enjoying the water. 

Hero and thumbnail photos courtesy Leahi Swim School

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