Maui Beach Safety 101

The Island of Maui is to referred to as the ‘Magic Isle’ for many reasons. Out of all the Hawaiian Islands, it’s the most topographically diverse and offers a glimpse of all the unique ecological environments that you’d seen throughout the islands. The 10,023-foot high Mount Haleakala, lava ridden landscapes, lush jungles, rolling pastures and a handful of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are just a few things in Maui to explore.

Best Maui Hawaii Beach Safety Tips

When discovering Maui, you are a visitor from a foreign land. You will see and experience many things that are new to you, and that may even include the Pacific Ocean. In order to inform and help our visitors stay as safe as possible while visiting the Valley Isle, we have created this Maui Beach Safety 101 guide.

We wish you the best vacation of your lifetime and ask that you read through this guide so that you can keep you and your family safe during your next visit to Maui. Aloha…


Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean

Rule #1 of ocean safety is to Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean! This popularly used term is a phrase that was actually coined by Hawaii’s very own surf legend, Duke Kahanamoku. The motto actually infers two reasons why- 1) watch out for dangerous waves and 2) respect the ocean. This rule cannot be stressed enough, and not following this rule is one of the major reasons for accidents that happen in and out of the water (throughout the world).

When on Maui, or on any of the Hawaiian Islands, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that we are in fact on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are completely at the heel of the ocean with anything we do, and it’s strength and beauty must be respected. Ocean currents and wind patterns are constantly changing, so you never know what’s in store. We also have rogue waves in Hawaii. Rogue waves are large, unexpected and extremely dangerous surface waves. They are even more powerful during storms. If you don’t see one coming, you could be dragged out to sea and have a very difficult time coming back in. Or, you could be slammed in the sand on your okole (butt), and very likely have some serious injuries; cerebral, spinal and more.

View More about Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean

If in Doubt, Don’t Go Out!

Here’s a commandment to live by: If in Doubt, Don’t Go Out! The ocean is very burly, very strong and at times unpredictable. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water which makes it the most powerful element in our natural environment.

If something feels off, or you don’t feel quite right about entering the ocean, please follow your instincts. Human intuition is quite strong, so if you feel uncomfortable when you’re about to enter the water or while you are in the ocean, make a good decision and take a break for the day or make a safe exit.

Even the most talented swimmers and ocean athletes follow this advice, so from beginner swimmer to pro, this is a lifesaving tip. To completely understand the ocean isn’t possible, and even if you have an in depth understanding of ocean currents, swells and wind patterns, you should always follow your instinct first.

Another tip that goes along with this is to know your swim level. Just because you feel at home in a swimming pool or a fresh water lake does not mean that you’ll feel the same in the ocean. While swimming at Maui beaches, remember that you’re in a giant fishbowl! Consider the strength of the waves, the ever-moving water, water clarity and be completely honest about what your swim level actually is. If you’d feel safest wearing a safety vest or with a floating device, definitely do so.

View More about If in Doubt, Don’t Go Out!

Never Snorkel Alone

In terms of Maui snorkeling safety, never snorkel alone. The ‘buddy system’ is a great practice to adopt while snorkeling anywhere. Why? Because it’s just the safest choice, and if you find yourself in need of help you won’t be alone.

Without a doubt, snorkeling is one of the most popular activities in Maui. Whether you choose to go out on your own exploring Maui’s best snorkeling spots, or if you prefer to go on a Maui snorkel tour, you will most definitely have one of the coolest experiences of your life. Why mess up that chance by not being prepared?

There are many safety tips to keep in mind while snorkeling: first watch the surf and currents, never turn your back on the ocean, don’t snorkel in strong winds, use proper gear, avoid exhaustion by swimming with a flotation device, swim diagonally across the current (not directly across it), duck or dive under a breaking wave and your enter/exit should be from a sandy point of entry. Those are just a few steps to snorkel successfully, so why wouldn’t you want to enjoy this awesome Maui activity with a friend?

Last, never snorkel while you’re under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. If you have medical contraindications that you’re concerned about, ask your medical provider is snorkeling is safe for you. Be completely aware of your body and your surroundings while snorkeling in Maui (or, anywhere else for that matter).

View More about Never Snorkel Alone

Heed All Posted Safety Signage

When on Maui, please heed all posted safety and warning signage. A variety of signage is posted all across the Island of Maui by the Hawaii Lifeguard Association, U.S. Coast Guard, County of Maui, Department of Agriculture, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and more. If you ever see safety and warning signage at Maui beaches, make sure to obey their requests. Safety signage could be posted about rogue waves, dangerous shore breaks, shark sightings, brown water events and more.

You will also oftentimes see signage posted by marine wildlife groups and non-profits; these signs state the various federally protected laws and more information about keeping your distance from wildlife. They also may ask you to avoid certain areas that might be areas of rest or breeding zones for wildlife that is commonly found on Maui beaches (Green Hawaiian Sea Turtles, Hawaiian Monk Seals, etc.). In regards to marine life, never feed, touch or harass these animals. They are Maui’s sacred aumakua (ancestors), and many are endangered.

When visiting Maui, understand that safety and warning signage is posted in order to avoid potentially life threatening accidents and hazards. It is your responsibility to respect these requests and make sure that you make smart decisions for you, your friends and your family.

View More about Heed All Posted Safety Signage

Use Proper Gear

When planning your amazing Maui vacation, there is so much to research and discover! Besides figuring out where to stay, what to pack and what to explore on Maui, you definitely want to do the right research in terms of obtaining the proper gear. Not only do you want to use the proper gear, but you also want to make sure it fits you and that it’s appropriate for the Maui ocean activity that you intend on using it for.

When choosing Maui snorkeling gear, consider what’s best for you and your group: renting or purchasing. Also, consider where you are planning on snorkeling and research the location and read reviews. Is this a place where you should use fins? Do you need a flotation device for one or more persons in your group? What type of mask is best for your 6 year old child?

One of the coolest opportunities to take advantage of on Maui is the variety of ocean sports. If you’ve already been practicing a certain water sport (surfing, SUP, body boarding, windsurfing, kite boarding, sport fishing, sailing, etc.) for years, you probably have a pretty good idea of what gear you need. If you’re planning on taking lessons or trying something out on your own for the first time, research and ask questions about what gear is best for you. Example: If you’ve never surfed in your life, don’t rent a short board and then head into one of the most popular surf breaks on Maui. This will not only put you in danger, but also those around you.

Making smart and educated decisions is the best thing you can do to stay safe in the ocean. Make sure to do your research and consider all dangers before playing in the ocean.

View More about Use Proper Gear

Go to Beaches with Lifeguards

Unless you’re visiting from a coastal area, many of Hawaii’s first time visitors have actually never even seen the ocean before! Yes, that may seem wild, but it is in fact very true. The ocean is a gorgeous entity, but very powerful. Even if you believe that you’re a strong swimmer, consider all parties in your group. There are many different types of beaches on Maui. Some are great for swimming, some are great for snorkeling, some are awesome for water sports and many are more appropriate for small children and kids, seniors and people that have little or no experience in the ocean.

If you have any doubt in your mind about what beach is right for you, definitely choose one that has a lifeguard station. Typically, lifeguards are located at Maui beaches that are also State Parks: Makena State Park, Kamaole Beach Park’s I II & II, Canoe Beach Park, D.T. Fleming Beach Park, Kanaha Beach Park, Baldwin Beach Park and Ho’okipa Beach Park. Another perk to going to beaches with lifeguards is that Hawaii’s State Park beaches are also likely have restrooms, freshwater showers, paved parking lots and BBQ areas.

Hawaii lifeguards are on duty from 8am-4:45pm everyday. They have certifications with the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), American Heart Association (AHA), CPR for Health Care Provider and Emergency Medical Responder (EMR). Not only are Hawaii’s lifeguards Ocean Safety Officers, but there are also skilled in many rescue techniques: tubes and fins, rescue boards, jet skis, 4-wheel ATV’s, first aid and more.

One of the most wonderful things about enjoying a beach with lifeguards is that they are there for you. If you have any questions, make sure to ask them. From cutting your foot on coral (do not step or stand on the fragile reef!) to finding yourself in a strong current, make sure to signal a lifeguard for help.

View More about Go to Beaches with Lifeguards

Research Maui Beaches
& Check Weather Reports

Researching Maui’s beaches and checking weather reports for the area is something that is commonly overlooked by visitors. When you live on Maui, researching Maui’s beaches and checking weather reports is a thought that almost becomes innate. Residents have grown accustomed to the seasons and the weather patterns, so they use beach and weather information to their advantage to avoid certain conditions, rain outs or to be able to maximize on their beach day.

Example 1: If a resident knows that it’s storming in Hana, they won’t plan a beach day with out-of-town visitors on the other side of the island.

Example 2: If a resident wishes to surf, but is still learning, they won’t choose to go to Ho’okipa Beach Park on Maui’s North Shore on a big wave winter day.

Researching Maui’s beaches and checking weather reports is a tip that’s advantageous for all travelers. When your visiting Maui, you definitely want to make sure that you maximize on your days because they are limited. Everyone understands that. With the proper research and information about weather, you can insure that you and your family will have an awesome day and that everyone will be safe. In addition, each corner of the Island of Maui is extremely diverse in terms of weather patterns, terrain and micro-climates. Choose an area that is right for your needs for that day.

View More about Research Maui Beaches
& Check Weather Reports

Don’t Swim in Brown Water

Unfortunately, ‘Brown Water Events’ are becoming increasingly more frequent throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Brown water events happen due to many reasons: toxic storm runoff, forest fires, development waste, agricultural waste, contaminated wells, watershed to reef drainage and more.

Brown water is seen close to the coastline. Brown water poses many threats to Maui’s coral reef systems. The water can be toxic, unbalanced and contain unhealthy bacteria. Brown water events are a huge threat to Maui’s coral reef ecology because they block the sunlight that allows the reef to thrive, thus negatively affecting the overall coral reef ecosystem and marine life environment.

It is not safe to swim in brown water. Besides unhealthy bacteria and bad water quality, there is not much clarity. Only swim in ocean waters that allow proper visibility.

View More about Don’t Swim in Brown Water

Avoid the Ocean During
Early and Late Hours

You may have heard this tip before! It’s always best to avoid the ocean during early and late hours. Do not swim in the ocean in the dark, and if you are a visitor and arrive at the beach early, do not enter the water until a lifeguard is on duty (at a designated State Beach Park). If it’s time for the lifeguards to leave for the day, it’s best to err on the side of caution and exit the ocean.

As humans, most of us tend to sleep at night. But, during the evening, the ocean is thriving with a huge late night scene. Without the visibility of daylight, it’s very difficult to spot rip currents, dangerous shore breaks, sharks, jellyfish, harmful algae blooms (red tides) and more hazards.

It’s a known fact that shark varieties feed at night and during the darker hours. Although your chances of being bitten by a shark are less than one in 3-million, according to reports, Hawaii shark sightings and shark attacks have been increasing in recent years. If you want to avoid your biggest chance of having a shark encounter on Maui, just avoid the ocean during the early and late hours. A Few More Tips: Do Not urinate in the ocean, and Do Not enter the ocean while bleeding or while having any open wounds.

View More about Avoid the Ocean During
Early and Late Hours

Safety Equipment & Supplies

There’s a variety of safety equipment and supplies that you can be prepared for when visiting the beach on Maui.

Here’s a short list:

  • Plenty of clean drinking water
  • Reef safe sunscreen
  • Flotation devices
  • Safety Vests & Rashguards
  • Reef Shoes
  • Peroxide (to clean any cuts and wounds)
  • Tweezers (to pull out any pieces of coral, sea urchin spines or splinters that you may step on)
  • First Aid Kit

View More about Safety Equipment & Supplies

Do you have any other Maui Beach Safety tips to add to our list?

Local Guide

We are local Maui guide experts and Hawaii enthusiasts who love to share the Aloha spirit and our favorite things to do on Maui.