HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu Ocean Safety held a news conference on Friday, July 9, in Waikiki to announce extended lifeguarding hours with operations that begin with mobile patrols.
Beginning Sunday, July 11, hours will be changed to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as more rescue incidents happen in the early and later hours of the day. The hours are an expansion of their current 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. shifts, which will cost approximately $1 million to start.
“No amount of money can equal the ability to save someone’s life. We can’t do that if we’re not here,” said Honolulu Ocean Safety Chief John Titchen.
Titchen says particularly later in the day it gets very busy, specifically between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“Ocean Safety receives a lot of calls for assistance,” he said of rescues during after hours.
According to Ocean Safety, there were 141 ocean-related emergency calls after lifeguard hours in 2019; that number jumped to 172 in 2020 and already in 2021 there have been 130 emergency calls between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“Right now, we’re seeing that combined with a lot of visitors that we’re seeing from the continent coming it gets busy later in the day, yesterday we had a drowning case yesterday afternoon,” Chief Titchen said.
He said there have been eight drownings and near-drownings in the last two weeks, five of which were visitors.
“This couldn’t come at a better time,” said Emergency Medical Services chief Dr. Jim Ireland. “We are seeing more visitors here, the traffic is back the people are back.”
All sides of the island have been busy the past few weeks.
“We’ve had at least five after-hour rescue calls in the last week which we’ve responded to with HFD, for swimmers in distress at places like Spitting Caves, Mokulua Islands, China walls, and hot spots like Makapuu and Sandy Beach,” said rescue craft operator Lt. Aka Tamashiro.
Lt. Kyle Foyle covers Oahu’s North Shore and opted to stay after 5:30 p.m. on a day with large surf, and ended up saving a 2-year-old and 5-year-old after they were sucked in by a large wave near Rock Pile while with their grandma.
“Luckily, I was there to run down and save these people,” he said. “I believe if we haven’t stayed that day and done those extended hours on our own we would have had casualties which would have included two children,” he said.
People at the beach or in the water before 9 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m. will not see lifeguards in the tower and have to call 911 if they see anyone in need of assistance. An Ocean Safety lieutenant will patrol by land and rescue craft operators will respond by sea.
The extended hours were approved by the previous administration in 2020.
“This program is going to save so many lives,” said Lt. Foyle.
The program includes adding an extra jet ski unit for each side of the island for two hours in the morning before lifeguard towers open and for two hours at night after the towers close.
First responders were busy over Fourth of July weekend as people hit the beaches over the holiday. It is likely to get even more crowded following Thursday’s changes to the Safe Travels program that allowed trans-Pacific travelers to bypass pre-testing and quarantine requirements if they are fully vaccinated.
The first day of the vaccine exemption left many waiting in long lines. Approximately 14,000 visitors arrived by Thursday afternoon using the exemption, and over 10,000 had pre-tested.