Spike in snorkeling related drownings prompt a snorkeling safety workshop

Local News

Is there a way to help prevent snorkeling related drownings?

That is one of the questions the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association hopes to find the answer to.

A recent spike in deaths directly linked to snorkeling is raising concerns.

Lifeguards are holding a workshop Wednesday, March 28 to educate people and to devise a plan.

“Snorkeling drownings are not unusual. We’ve had them for years before this spike, but I think the dramatic increase in numbers has gotten peoples attention,” said Ralph Goto. Goto was a lifeguard for more than 30 years and is helping coordinate the workshop.

“The more information we can get about what’s going on, I think its going to help us craft some prevention stuff,” Goto said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, is preventing these things from happening.”

On average, there are 17 snorkeling related deaths each year in Hawaii.
There have been 14 so far in 2018, with the majority of them occurring on Maui.

So what caused the spike?
Goto said, no one really knows.

“We have 65 drownings a year in this state in the ocean. You can’t say what caused it,” Goto explained. “You can say what they were doing, but we really don’t have that direct correlation at this point…the deaths are not caused by the snorkel, but that’s what the people are doing when they have a problem.”

According to Goto, there are countless assumptions.

“There’s theories related to the equipment. There’s theories about experience or inexperience, preexisting medical conditions, people getting off the plane after a long plane ride,” Goto said. 

The Snorkeling Safety Workshop will discuss numerous topics.

“We’re going to have a panel of experts in the morning talk about snorkeling physiology, snorkeling related deaths epidemiology,” Goto said. “In the afternoon, we’re going to allow people to actually get in the water, try some of this stuff out.”

They also intend to educate people.

“Snorkeling seems to be simple and so beautiful and so easy. It’s not, its a strenuous activity and people need to understand that,” Goto said.

Another topic of discussion, full-face masks.

Shaun Schuster, manager at Aaron’s Dive Shop said, the full-face masks are comfortable and are easy to use. He demonstrated one manufactured by HEAD.

“Air comes in through the top and every time you breathe in you get air though these valves at the top and exhale at the bottom,” Schuster said pointing to each point on the full-face mask. “The nice thing about it cause its forming the seal around the whole face, they’re less likely to flood. The snorkel actually has a dry valve on the top as well.”

Schuster said the equipment isn’t the problem.

“I do think we are seeing people that maybe shouldn’t be out in the water in the first place wearing more masks like these,” Schuster said.

Schuster said he thinks there may be problems with people using cheap knock-offs, but with the higher end equipment, like the masks by HEAD, are safe.

In an email, HEAD manufacturer stated: 

“HEAD and its sister company MARES have 70 years of experience in developing and manufacturing scuba regulators, masks and other technical dive equipment for recreational, military and professional use.  They strive to meet the highest demands of their customers, while simultaneously bringing the safest products to market.”

The Snorkeling Safety Workshop will be held Wednesday, March 28, 2018 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Rainbow Suite and Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon. Contact Ralph Goto at (808) 479-1610 or ralphgoto@gmail.com to register. Registration fee: $75 includes breakfast and lunch.

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